In Bloom

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

The plan after wrapping up the final Make a Wish event in June was to get back into shape, but I felt lost as far as what “in shape” looked like to me. “In shape” used to look like being able to go out and run a 30-50 mile outing at the drop of the hat, but my heart still wasn’t longing for those types of distances. I continued to feel guilty for not wanting to cover long distances.

Our final Make a Wish hike event (Trailblaze 2.0) for 2022 was in South Carolina. My primary job function at 2.0 was napping…

Kidding kidding… it was volunteering and making sure hikers had a splendid time along their 28 mile journey.

After all the songs had been sung and all the drinks had been drank… it was time to head back to Bama. The BFD crew I rode up to SC with was staying an extra day so I had to score a ride back with someone else.

It’s been said, “one good conversation can shift the direction of change forever…”

Janey was kind enough to let me bum a 5-6hr ride back to Alabama, but more so, was kind enough to share some of her own struggles and how she persevered. She helped me simplify my problem into smaller, manageable goals. It’s funny because in my therapeutic practice… I do this daily for other people… but alas… it’s often tough to make changes and manage our own issues independently.

Like Janey and I discussed… I started small. I started running a few miles 3 days a week and started getting in the gym 2 days a week. And ya know what? It sucked. It sucked real, real bad. I felt like a SLOB. But I knew consistency would be the key and I desperately needed a short term goal to keep me on track… so I signed up for a trail 5k our company sponsored.

I also joined Ellison Fitness Innovations because I felt weak, frail and out of shape. I missed being an all-around athlete and this lil adorable trainer was determined to get me back into shape.

Over the course of the last 3 months… I’ve fallen back in love with being an athlete… not just a runner. I’m finally in a rhythm and have found a new routine! I’m in the gym by 5am 4 days a week and participate in a men’s workout group (F3) 1x a week. I’ve gained some weight (sitting at 145-150lbs compared to the usual 125-133lbs) and feel healthier than I’ve felt in years.

I’m still running 20-30 miles a week and it’s feels like the perfect amount. Despite a favorable outcome of a struggle bus effort at the local trail 5k… my speed is no where near where it was last year…

But that’s alright. The important thang thang is… I’m excited about this new transition into a more well-rounded type of fitness.

Now that my groin issue has dissipated… I’ve finally got a few adventures planned, some quality mountain time, a few shorter trail races… and perhaps a trip out West in the spring.

Wrapping up the end of a long short week at the office… I’ve been reminded how small talks can be impactful and lead to big changes.

You Can Always Find Me Where The Skies Are Blue

A certain intimacy lies in grand adventures and travel. There’s just something that bonds people when seeing beautiful places or doing hard shit together.

Perhaps it’s the collective feeling of awe and amazement when staring out into the High Country in Colorado from 14,000ft.

Kyle ~ 2016 on El Diente

Or that feeling of smallness when gazing upon something as majestic as the Tetons…

Wifey ~ Jenny Lake , WY

Or that feeling of a cold beer and pizza after spending 5 days camping in the Wyoming backcountry…

Angle Mtn, Wyoming

Or a quick weekend trip up to Appalachia to break up the monotony of every day life…

Da bois ~ Nantahala , NC

Whatever it may be… I feel like you instinctively grow closer with people in which you spend this type of intentional time.

Trail running has blessed me beyond belief. Over the course of the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to be an ambassador and sponsored by several amazing companies. From travel to gear, I’ve received much more than I feel like I deserve. No matter how much hard work you put in and how much passion you have for something, the cold hard truth is… you don’t always get to reap the benefits and rewards.

About 6 years ago, I remember coming to the realization of like, “damn, this is pretty amazing. I wish I could somehow give back and connect people to the outdoors.”

So I started opening up heart and mind to that idea. I started putting those intentions into the universe through thought, prayer and moving meditation. I feel like it’s one thing to put intentions out there, however, if you’re not actively observing and paying attention, you may miss something the universe is trying to show you.

A few weeks passed and I received a random email from a women I’d never met before. She explained that she was going to start a new program in Alabama based around a program in North Carolina that she recently went and observed and volunteered. We agreed to meet up for drinks to discuss the event in a but more detail. I think I was halfway through my first beer when I was like… “Yea… I’m in.”

That random ass woman… well her name is Valerie.

And we’ve been bringing sexy back to the trails and training Make a Wish hikers since 2017.

This past weekend I got the opportunity to spend time with Val and 2 other high quality humans that I’ve known for years but haven’t really got to spend much intentional time.

I got into Denver just in time to drop my bags at the hotel and catch a super late dinner with Val, Beebs and Trevor. The next thing I knew… it was 2:30am and we were headed off to Colorado’s Trailblaze Challenge event.

When we got to the trailhead, I strapped on a headlamp, grabbed a handheld and set off into the dark abyss to scope out the 23.8 miles of the Colorado Trail that CO MAW utilizes for their hike.

The trail was gorgeous. I moved along the well groomed western single track as I watched the morning sun illuminate the sky.

I passed through where aid station one was to eventually be set up and began through an exposed section of trail. The sun finally popped it’s head over the ridge line to allow sight in the beautiful valley.

I passed through mile 10 aid station and said hello to the CO volunteers. Since the air was cool, I didn’t need anything other than a squirt of water to top of my handheld. The trail continued as a forest service road for a bit until it turned back into the groomed single track. The BIGGEST difference between the CO and AL route is that AL route on the Pinhoti is waaaaaaaaaay more technical.

I eventually linked up with my MAW crew at mile 23. They had just finished setting up Wish Mile and we all 4 hiked back to the finish together. We made a quick pit stop in Bailey, CO to grab some food. OMG… Bailey is the cutest town. The shops were cute but the town folk were cuter. AND… it had a Sasquatch Museum!

After some hot dogs, we headed back to a few of the aid stations to volunteer with the Colorado chapter. Typically on hike weekends in Alabama, I’m preoccupied with taking care of hikers on the trail by either sweeping, scouting, or spot checking. It was nice to not have that obligation and to be able to work an aid station and chat with the CO volunteers and their hikers! I even met a hiker in CO that was from Athens, AL!

You don’t really get the understanding and scope of how bad ass your own program is until you witness another. AL’s Trailblaze is so much bigger in terms of participant and volunteer size… and honestly… I think it has everything to do with the passion and hard work the AL team brings to the table. Though it takes a village to find this type of success, these 2 women right here are 2 of the most inspiringly hardworking individuals I’ve ever met.

Val & Beebs

They care a hell of a whole lot and it shows in the success the AL Trailblaze chapter has seen. The AL Trailblaze Challenge almost raised $1,000,000 last year… yes… Dr. Evil… close to a million.

It’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch this grass roots event turn into a magnificent production that’s impacting so many lives.

The one thing I love about these small group trips is the lack of conflict when it comes to deciding what to do next. Y’all wanna grab a drink and go cool off in the cold ass river? “Im down.”

bros in boxers drinking beers

Y’all hungry? “Let’s stop and eat at the next place we come to…”

Y’all wanna wake up super early again and hike a 14er? “In.”

Sunday morning, we’d decided to yet again wake up at an ungodly hour and make our way to a trailhead before the sun.

We collectively marched through the darkness with our sights set on Mt Bierstadt. As we trudged through the darkness, the sky was slowly lightening.

I don’t suppose watching the sun come up from a mountain will ever get old…

We eventually made our way to the tippy top and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the beautiful sights from Bierstadt!

I love the fact that the people that push and expect hard effort from the hikers of Trailblaze don’t just talk the talk… but litrully walk the walk.

They say “you’re known by the company you keep” and the older I get… the more thankful I am for keeping good company.

✌🏼 out Colorado. Hope to see your blue skies again soon.

Enjoy the Silence

Why are we so afraid of silence? Is it because we’ve clouded our world with perpetual noise and the moment we catch a break in the clatter, we slip into an uncomfortable silence and are forced to confront the thoughts rattling around inside our heads? I think yes.

We’ve created such a world that silence is the enemy. It’s the terrifying demon that lives under the bed that we’re too afraid to confront. We’ve been conditioned in such a way where we have to be consistently stimulated and in depth conversation or something is “wrong.”

Over the years I’ve grown fond of silence. I’ll intentionally set out on a +8hr adventure or take a weekend trip alone to the mountains so that I can spend some time with me. I’ve found it to be very therapeutic to get that alone time and for me personally, physical pursuits in the mountains often resolve (or at least help) any internal struggles. The mountains bring a sense of simplicity and clarity. I believe in the same way psychological issues can directly turn into and/or effect physiological issues, the roles can be reversed.

Typically solo mountain weekends are planned and I prepare myself mentally for the silence. Sometimes they’re not. This past weekend was supposed to be our annual winter edition of Mountains Girls Weekend that we’ve all grown to love, however, a few things popped up and it got canceled last minute. C’est la vie.

This weekend was the last time I’d get an opportunity to get up to the Smokies until March/April, so I needed to make the most of it.

I slowly allowed my body to warm during the half mile gravel jaunt to the Bullhead trailhead before pushing up the mountain. Each time I take Bullhead, it always seems to have a different feel and has turned into one of the prettiest routes up/down LeConte.

The mountain offered no views, so there was no escape from my thoughts. No matter how hard I tried to shake some annoying internal dialogue, I couldn’t seem to suppress it enough to enjoy the joys of the mountain. I finally found some mental reprieve by the time I hit the ridge.

Matty Fierce and I had been up the month prior and encountered a good bit of snow on LeConte, but there was a good 2-4in more this trip! I’d never seen my mountain encased in such beautiful splendor!

Even though Cliff Tops would bring no view, I decided to climb it anyways to see if the heavens would allow for a partial view of the blanketed trees below.

I took a few deeps breaths of the fresh mountain air and stole a moment to stare into the grey abyss before 3 guys approached. I chatted with the 3 college guys for a few minutes before heading over to Myrtle.

Myrtle was even more peaceful than Cliff Tops. I deducted from the perfectly blanketed summit that I was the first person to set foot on its grounds for the day. My thoughts quickly shifted to 2 of my best friends. They just brought in 2 new lil baby boys to the world and I felt compelled to build a tiny lil snowman and say a prayer for each of them. I’m so excited to see their family grow and stoked to see what kind of ridiculousness those 2 future adventurers will pursue!

I was captivated by the haunting beauty of the Smoky Mountains as I made my way back towards the Lodge.

I popped by the lodge to see if the winter caretaker was home. I sent Pnut a quick message but he was off the mountain for the weekend. Still made him a lil snowman though.

Since I’ve never seen this much snow up on LeConte, I took some time and roamed the grounds around the lodge.

6593 for lyfe!!

By the time I left the Lodge I felt that serene, inner peace that the mountains often bring, but the further I descended down Rainbow, the more clouded my head became. I got to Rainbow Falls and had all but decided to just get in my car and go home. I drove out to Pigeon Forge and sat in my warm car wrestling with my next move. Since Mtn Girls Weekend got canceled, I didn’t have a place to stay. I could’ve slept in the back of my car for another night, but was prepared for a warm shower and bed… and a cold sub freezing night in the back of the Element sounded… unpleasant.

I like counseling for a lot of reasons and think it is and could be beneficial for every one. One of the main functions of counseling is to have another person take the clouded or scattered thoughts in your head and reconfigure and present them in a simple way so that you can come to your own conclusion. Counseling aside, it’s important to have those types of people in your life. I’m extremely thankful for the open and honest communication I have with my wife Kati. She helps me sort the cloudiness in my dome piece and simplifies my thoughts more than I can explain.

“Enjoy yourself! Go get a yummy meal and a beer! Watch tv and take a hot shower! Enjoy your life!” ~ Kati

“Are you gonna feel better in the mountains or suck ass Alabama?” ~ Matty Fierce

Between the Dark Princess and MF’s words of encouragement, I decided to go grab a shit ton of chicken nuggies, a few burgers, some beer and booked a cheap hotel next to the river.

Since all the forecasts suggested drizzly, cold rain in the valley and snow flurries and cloud coverage in the higher elevations, I decided to sleep in and enjoy a lazy morning in a warm hotel bed. Of course… the one day I decided to NOT strap on a headlamp and push up a mountain is the one day there’s an epic snowy sunrise on Leconte! My friend Adam Williamson (a local photographer me and MF met over the summer on Cammerer) posted this unreal shot from LeConte!

The good thing about social media is that it allows us to share some of our most beautiful moments with each other. If social media didn’t exist, I would never have gotten to see this gorgeous sunrise!

I checked the local road situation before packing my bags and heading out the door. I had planned to do some recon work early the day before for some Spring off trail adventures, but access to the area was closed off. Since 441 was still shut down, I decided to head up Sugarland Mtn to see if I could recon from a different angle, plus, I needed to finish the bottom half of the trail anyways.

The climb up was peaceful. I passed 2 hikers a mile or so in, but after that, I had the mountain to myself. Sugarland had a bunch of under brush and low hanging branches along the trail which had me annoyingly brushing off snow from my clothes. It was apparent by the time I got to the Rough Creek turn, that I would get no chance at any sort of visual reconnaissance so I made the decision to go ahead and descend back down the mountain.

The first mile or so along Rough Creek was much like Sugarland, but quickly settled into a fun and runnable trail. The fog paired with the snowy environment was breathtaking.

I carefully rock hopped a few creeks and playfully followed animal tracks along the trail.

I transitioned into a steady tempo run when I hit Little River Trail. Even though this trail was more like a jeep road, I thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful movement next to the rushing water.

To keep the purity of the route, I decided not to take Husky back over to reconnect with Sugarland. Instead, I made my way to Elkmont campground. I made a quick stop to see some of the sites, like the old staircase to the Wonderland Hotel:

The snow was so beautiful that I didn’t even mind the few miles along the road back to the trailhead.

I quickly stripped down, changed into warm, dry clothes and cracked open a colbeer when I got back to my car.

I enjoyed the silence the mountain brought that day. My voice stayed quiet, my mind wasn’t cluttered, and my heart didn’t feel heavy. Sometimes it’s best to stay silent and let the world unfold around you.

I’m thankful to have gotten the chance to get up to the Smokys one more time to play in the snow. Team Andrews has got some big goals this year. Between wrapping up my final semester and internship of grad school, Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge, and my regular job at the thrift store, these types of mountain adventures will be few and far between. The next 5 months will be mental chaos but I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store. If it’s anything like last year, it’ll be another year of hard, hard growth.

When Life Gives You Lululemon(s): Finding Your Leadership Voice

“When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Bell

I’ve had the privilege of being a Lululemon Ambassador for the past 2 years and have officially transitioned into a Legacy Ambassador. These past 2 years have flown by and I’ve often felt that I didn’t utilize my time as an Ambassador as well as others. Was it because most of my term as an Ambassador coincided with me going back to the University of Montevallo as a full time graduate student? Was it because my work schedule didn’t always allow me to join in with the Sweat groups during the week? Was it because most of my weekends were spent logging long, lonely miles in the woods? I’m sure I could insert a million reasons why I don’t feel like I took advantage of the ambassadorship like I should, but it’s hard for me to actually dwell on the negative.

So what were the positives of being a Lululemon Ambassador? Well having some rad ass photos on display in the store was pretty sweet…

pics: James Acomb

Getting swagged out (especially the shorty shorts) from head to toe in some of the best clothes imaginable was pretty stellar…

But the things that radiated more than anything else were the culture and the people.

Lululemon’s progressive mindset shines through in every aspect within their culture. Lululemon does an exceptional job at promoting wellness and a positive mindset. They genuinely want to better the community that surrounds them, and they truly invest in peoples lives.

Out of the entire 2 years I spent as an Ambassador for Lululemon, the biggest take away for me was from a Leadership Accelerator and Coaching Program that I had the opportunity to participate. The program focuses on elevating your leadership capacity through the cultivation of self-awareness, development of healthy work/rest rhythms, deepening effective communication, maximizing and multiplying influence and personal vision and value alignment. This amazing pilot program was spearheaded by Alexis Girvan.

In January 2019, I had just made some big life changes when I started back to the University of Montevallo to pursue my master’s degree in counseling. The counseling program in itself has been nothing short of life changing and it paired gracefully with the Leadership Accelerator program that Lululemon piloted in February 2019.

Other than black coffee and maybe a scrumptious blueberry muffin, I didn’t really know what to expect when I rolled into Innova Coffee shop for the first Accelerator program. The setting was intimate and relaxed and I was surrounded by some truly amazing and inspiring individuals. We didn’t waste much time before deep diving into the program. The first of five Leadership Accelerators was probably the most profound and impactful for me.

Alexis turned on the PowerPoint and I read the title: Discovering Your Leadership Voice. Leadership voice? What the hell is a leadership voice? I thought to myself, “well I definitely don’t have a strong leadership voice.” To a degree, I think we’ve all been conditioned to have a vision of what a leader looks like. Most of the time we picture a strong, respected individual standing in front of a crowd getting others fired up…

But leadership doesn’t always look that way. I’ve learned that sometimes it looks like a scrawny guy on the bed of a truck in pink sequin shorts, a lime green fuzzy vest and a blue wig…

I’ve always been told that I was a leader but have always found it hard to picture myself as one… especially not someone that’s leading the charge into battle. I’ve always found myself to be that quiet lil cheerful dude in the middle of things, just being encouraging, supportive and celebrating other people’s achievements. Well… turns out… that’s a type of leader as well.

Counselors and assessments go hand in hand, so I was thrilled to be going through assessments regarding my leadership voice. The program is insightful in the simple fact that you get to explore not only your leadership voice, but you get the opportunity to deep dive into the other remaining leadership voices. By understanding and learning the values of other leadership voices, you can understand how to better communicate with each type of voice. It allows you to look objectively at each voice and see which ones you pair with best, as well as which voices you may have conflict. The voices that you typically have the most trouble pairing with are called Nemesis Voices. By learning more about each type of leadership voice, you can understand what each voice needs to feel empowered, what types of behavior to observe and how to work effectively with each type. Not only is this beneficial from a leadership standpoint, it can be extremely beneficial in intimate, friendship and casual relationships.

The program suggests that there’s 5 different types of leadership voices: (1) The Pioneer, (2) The Connector, (3) The Guardian, (4) The Creative, and (5) The Nurturer. Wanna take a stab at what I am? If you even remotely know me, I’m guessing you picked #5 – The Nurturer. Bingo.

The next few paragraphs or so are almost directly from the leadership voice Accelerator workbook so don’t paint me as some profound writer just yet.

So what exactly does a Nurturer leadership voice sound like? Well firstly, it’s the quietest of the leadership voices. Nurturers intuitively feel how an organization and people will react to a new idea. They defend values and people will always come before profit. They function as the relational oil inside teams and organizations. They genuinely delight in celebrating the achievements of others, are natural team players and they rarely value the contribution they make. People, relational harmony and values are the things that matter the most to Nurturers. Nurturers can be empowered by letting them speak first, affirming their competence and the genuine value of their contribution.

Understanding the Nemesis Voices is just as, if not more important than understanding your own leadership voice. The Nemesis Voice of a Nurturer is the Creative and the Pioneer. Creatives are the second quietest leadership voices. They are the conceptual architects and love to think outside of the box. They typically function as “early warning rad systems” for teams and often see opportunities and dangers long before anyone else. They’re never satisfied with the status quo and inherently believe things can always be better. They exhibit strong social conscience and easier for personal and organizational integrity. They often struggle with the fact that “people never seem to fully understand my ideas.” Being internal perfectionists, they often fail to celebrate the 90% that’s been achieved and instead remain focused on the 10% that hasn’t. Creatives can struggle to communicate effectively and have idealist perfectionist tendencies. Creatives can be empowered by not judging them on what they say first, but help them communicate their ideas and let them know it’s ok to be wrong sometimes. The other Nemesis Voice of a Nurturer is the Pioneer. Pioneers approach life with an “anything is possible” attitude and visioning/shaping a scalable future is always the highest priority. Winning is a massive driver for them and they hate to give up. Their military type thinking makes them incredibly effective at aligning people, systems and resources. They are powerful communicators, using logic and rationality to provide an attractive and compelling vision of the future. The immature Pioneer can often appear very arrogant with a “me focused” almost narcissistic agenda. They quickly dismiss any contributions of those they don’t believe to be competent or experienced. Pioneers can lack sensitivity, be unwilling to listen and be perceived as arrogant. Pioneers don’t need much empowerment but can be empowered by affirming their competence.

I remember walking out of the first Accelerator with a renewed self confidence and feeling liberated as leader. It helped me realize what I need from other people in order to be successful as a leader. For a Nurturer, there’s a need to feel valued and appreciated. They need people to invest and believe in them even when they don’t feel like they’re good enough. They need people to spend quality time with them, get to know them on a deeper level and join them in caring for others even when it’s not perceived as important.

The Accelerator also gave leadership insights for a Nurturer. One example was that people choose you (Nurturers) to lead because they believe in you and it’s important to act accordingly knowing that you belong. Another is that people see you as a highly skilled professional so it’s about damn time to start believing it yourself. These are 2 things that have often been an internal struggle for me. Because I have never had a set career path, I’ve never really thought of myself as a professional. Now that I have direction and pursuing a career in the counseling world, I’m starting to view my training and education as more of an asset and view myself on a more professional level.

Even after 3 years of leading hikers for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge, I still catch myself feeling inadequate in many ways. It’s really taken me until this year to truly believe and realize maybe I’m not as inadequate as I make myself believe at times. The Accelerator has also given me the insight that people trust my judgement and genuinely want to hear my opinion and this can be a springboard for influence in a way that I can speak the truth kindly.

It’s also given me insight on ways that I use my Nurturer ways in negative ways. For example, removing or not giving as much of my love, support and encouragement within an existing relationship is a way that I utilize my leadership voice to distance myself or show disapproval. After becoming aware of this, I’ve had a chance to look objectively at my own existing relationships and I can see where at times, this has taken place. The same goes for new relationships or people that I don’t necessarily like as well as others. Everyone I meet is going to get a baseline of myself in one shape or form. Even when I’ve been wronged, I still find myself showing respect and courtesy. I honestly feel that every single human I cross paths with will be treated fairly and with common courtesy. Regardless, everyone will get a baseline support, encouragement, love and trust from me. Obviously people I care for more will get higher doses and people I care for less will get just the baseline but I think the most important feature of this knowledge is the awareness that comes with it. Now that I know this is how I tend to distance myself, I’ve found myself becoming aware when it’s happening and can take a self-assessment of the “why” I’m doing it. This insight has honestly helped me to love people better and this awareness has given me the opportunity to catch myself red handed in the act, re-asses and show a bit more grace in certain situations.

I’m extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the Lululemon family as an Ambassador and looking forward to continuing to be a part of the family in a different role. The people I’ve met and the growth that has resulted from this opportunity will always stay with me. When I think of closing the door on this chapter of my life, I won’t look at the door with regret. I’ll look at the door as an end of a pathway that enhanced my life and set me up to reach out for the next doorknob.

pic: James Acomb

Pink Duct Tape

We had our first Birmingham group hike for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge this past Saturday. At the beginning of every Trailblaze season, I always overhear and sense the exciting nervousness of hikers as they begin the 12 week journey. Some are worried they won’t be fit enough or capable of completing the 26.3 mile hike. Some are worried about the inevitable pain and uncomfortableness to push themselves to uncharted territory physically and possibly mentally. As a hike leader, it’s my job to support and encourage these hikers to stay consistent, stay positive and safely push their boundaries. The majority of the hikers have never taken on a challenge like this and their nervousness is understandably justified. Every year we get avid hikers as well as folks who have never hiked a day in their lives and both types of people on the spectrum have successfully completed the journey. I had one conversation with a hiker this past weekend about my own personal failures and shortcomings. It got me thinking of the times where I decided to pull out of certain efforts and times where I made the decision to suck it up and push through the uncomfortableness. One of those times was in 2018 during the Cruel Jewel 100…

“Maaaaaaaan f*ck Hardrock. F*ck Cruel Jewel. F*ck all is this sh*t. I’m done.”

I waddled into Camp Morganton (mile 50) drenched, chaffed and hating everything. Between the Georgia humidity and the overnight storm I had just trudged through, I had spent the first 15hrs30mins of this hellacious race soaking wet. I was over it.

I plopped down, removed my race bib and started to explain how Satan himself had come up from the depths of Hell to spend the entire day/night running demon horned sandpaper along my inner thighs and scrotum.

A girl standing in close proximity bluntly said. “Don’t be a p*ssy!”

I recognized the face but at the time had never actually met this girl. It was Jen, one of Ash’s best friends. I just rolled my eyes and continued bitching about how everything sucks. OJG, Matty Fierce and Jen must have done a good job with their pep talk and spinning my negative talk into positive talk, because before I knew it, I had a a dry pair of socks/shoes on and my race bib pinned back on a pair of dirty yellow shorts. I wasn’t entirely thrilled at the thought of stepping back out into the downpour to penguin waddle my ass back across the north Georgia mountains with a cheerful Lucifer scraping away delicate layers of skin in my shorts… but nevertheless, I begrudgingly stepped into the doorway of Camp Morganton.

“Aight Matty Fierce. If I step my ass out of this doorway and back into this rain… no matter how long it takes, I’m not quitting. Ok? Ok.”

OJG and MF didn’t let me quit. I spent the next 18hrs slowly and painfully moving my body across some of Georgia’s toughest trails.

At mile 69, Luci had stopped with the demon horned sandpaper and moved onto extinguishing lit cigarettes on the bottom half of my manhood. WHAT SINS AM I PAYING FOR?!?! There had to be SOMETHING I could do to ease the torture. WWMD? What would Macgyver do? I’ll tell ya what he’d do… he’d do duct tape.

I took the bright pink duct tape out of my plastic supply bin and wrapped it around my inner thighs. It wasn’t comfortable, but it allowed me to get back moving. The next 36 miles were much of the same… just slow, painful, wounded duck type movement along the Dragon’s Dong (aka: the Dragon’s Spine – aka: the Duncan Ridge Trail).

But after 35hrs, the end would eventually come and the mission objective moved from finishing CJ100 to a desperate search for Goldbond within the walls of a 24hr Walmart.

I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences in my day. Getting 18 teeth ripped from my skull was a bit unpleasant… breaking my clavicle and having to hide it so that I could pitch in the World Series was a bit unpleasant… self-forcing my douche shoulder back into place and ripping my labrum 360° was a bit unpleasant… and now sitting in a hotel bathroom at 1am painfully removing pink duct tape from raw, bloody skin was a bit unpleasant.

So where is that fine line of pink duct tape? At what point do you pull the plug and say… “nah fam, I’m good.” At what point do you rip a gritty piece of pink duct tape off in your teeth, strap it across your bare skin and keep going? I believe it’s situational and on a person by person basis. For example, my buddy Ryan just completed the H9 100 miler in some of the worst conditions imaginable. For me, that race (especially in those conditions) sounds absolutely awful and something that I wouldn’t enjoy. However, for him, he made the decision to suck it up and push through to be the first person to ever finish. He metaphorically had his own reasons to strap on some pink duct tape and push through the uncomfortableness.

Ryan @ H9 100 Miler

Especially when its something like trail running, I’m a big advocate of the fun factor. Trail running is a big passion of mine because it’s FUN for me. I think one of the reasons I’m not super competitive in my practice is because I’m afraid of losing the feeling trail running instills within me. I understand that mountain ultra trail running isn’t always snow cones and kittens. Hell, most of the fun in endurance sports IS that uncomfortableness and that desire to push boundaries.

So when do you quit? I don’t quit often and it usually takes a lot to get me to bow out. I can only think of a few instances where I decided to throw in the hat. One instance was a long 60 mile route I had planned along the Art Loeb. I knew from mile 13 something was off, but since Ash had driven 3hrs to join me at mile 18 for the last 40 or so miles… I didn’t want to bail immediately. I would end up calling it quits at mile 42. To this day… it is still the worst I have EVER felt while on the trail. I made the decision to drop mainly because it would’ve pushed us going overnight through a storm and the thought of a warm meal at the Waffle House sounded all too appealing.

Another instance I dropped from an event was at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2018). From the starting line something felt off and by mile 14 I started having weird full body cramps. I tried my best to overcome my body’s revolt, but my inner voice kept prompting safety concerns so I bailed at mile 37.

pic cred: Gordan Harvey – smiling as I’m walking to drop at mile 37
pic cred: Gordan Harvey – official DNF face

Another time we bailed on an outing was this past summer. We had planned to do the 55 mile NAR loop as a training run for OJG, Hump, and Kyle’s upcoming 100 miler (IMTUF). After a slight, accidental bushwhack adventure off route, the allure of colbeer and warm food was enough to hop in the car with Katie Gregg after 41 miles

A third time I bailed was AGAIN at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2019). I felt fine and dandy for the first 18 miles and was moving along at my goal pace. Things went south after leaving Bulls Gap. I threw up for the next 12 miles and it got to the point I couldn’t even hold down water. Around mile 32 I came walking down a dirt road laughing and yelled ahead to my buddy Matt who was crewing me, “I’m done bro!” Despite appearing perfectly fine and having a great attitude… I just wasn’t fun anymore and didn’t have anything to prove by death marching 20 more miles in the Ransack.

DNFs happen. Bad days happen. It’s kinda absurd to think things will always go smoothly. Failures are growing pains and shouldn’t always be viewed as bad. Sure, failures can be disheartening, but if you can observe the positive side of failure and utilize it as a learning point, growth happens and you become a better athlete and overall better human.

Now that the year of January has ended and another year begins on this beautiful orb, God willing, I’ll get the opportunity to rip off a few more pieces of pink duct tape, push through some uncomfortableness and continue to learn from my successes AND failures.