Monthly MURCAn Spotlight Archive
Twice per month we put a MURCAn in the spotlight to share their story and perspective on running and life. MURCA is special because as Marines, we share a sacred bond, and through running, out bond becomes even stronger. Below are the stories of the fewer, the prouder, the MURCAns.
1. Derek Dowell
Derek was born and raised in Monroe, LA. Growing up he played nearly every sport including football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and track & field. After HS, he floundered in college for two years spending more hours at the bars than in class. So he enlisted in the Marine Corps in May of 2003 and shipped off to Parris Island, SC to stand on the yellow footprints. He was stationed at MCAS Cherry Point, NC for his first enlistment and then was transferred to independent duty aboard Naval Air Station Belle Chasse, LA. He separated from the Marine Corps in late 2010 to finish his bachelor’s degree and after a semester of college, realized he missed the Corps so he joined a VMR squadron in New Orleans, intending to drill once a month while attending college. After finishing his degree he volunteered for a mobilization to Afghanistan. He has been mobilized and deployed every year for the last six years!Derek started ultrarunning in 2010 and since then has run 65 ultras including Badwater 135, Leadville Trail 100, Bear 100, Vermont 100, Bighorn 100, Cruel Jewel 100, Arkansas Traveller 100, and the Madeira Island Ultra Trail, to name a few. This year he is embarking on the Grand Slam, beginning with Western States next weekend!Derek graduated from Tulane University and is currently finishing his Master’s Degree there. He has also been fortunate to travel all over the world the last few years and recently married his high school sweetheart.Derek has some serious ultrarunning experience under his belt and this group is better with him in it. Lets get behind him as he prepares to head over to Squaw Valley for the WSER!And BTW, we’ll do these MURCAn Spotlights a few times a month, it’s a good way to get to know each other a bit.Semper Fidelis!
2. Mosi Smith
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia the first and last to a strong, single mother. I was never the biggest or the fastest kid on the block. But I knew I found something; from the first moment running a “cross country” race during an elementary school field day to know, I have enjoyed the variable degrees of a life-long relationship with running. I had the fortune of a recommendation from a high school football coach to go out for the track-and-field team. It sucked; I sucked. But I could see a tiny possibility of a “what if”—what if I put more effort in this? What if this could positively impact my life? What if I gave myself a chance to grow into a better runner? It provided an outlet and a measuring stick for personal development and growth. What I was gaining in the ways of discipline, goal-setting, and time management easily overlapped in other life areas. Through the lessons of diligence and work, I was able to earn a spot to the Naval Academy Prep School and eventually the U.S. Naval Academy.
Forever I will remain appreciative of the individuals I was fortunate to work alongside, the experiences gained across the years, and the growth fostered during that period. From the beginnings as a young, second lieutenant with 1st Marine Division Truck Company to the closing chapter of service as a Company Officer at the Naval Academy, I would not do anything differently. Some of my fondest memories are from times with my Marines during our deployments in support of OIF.
My running “career” started running back in the 1990s with the Peachtree Junior Road Race and Atlanta Track Club races. The namesake of current club of friends, the Lucas Moreno Running Club, served as an additional point of inspiration. I ran track and cross-country throughout high school. In college, I ran my first marathon in 2002 and qualified for Boston. I would run Boston x6 more times up until 2013. My PR is 2:56, but I have a feeling I can take that down. My favorite distance is the 100-mile. There is something intriguing about the distance that keeps me returning; every outing is different. My PR is 17:04. Some of the more notable runs I have enjoyed along the way: Badwater 135, Western States 100, Marathon des Sables, Conquer the (Great) Wall Marathon, Virginia Triple Anvil (Triple Ironman), Adidas 10k Paris, Grindstone 100, JFK-50, and the Annapolis 10-Miler.
Mosi’s Three Rocks of Wisdom:
1) Enjoy the run and don’t rush the process. One can learn a lot about yourself and the nuances of our sport from every event from the 800-meter to the ultras.
2) Try everything. Staying open to different venues and disciplines will add to depth of experience. The aid station skills you develop in a fixed-time race (i.e., 24-hour run) could help you shave time off your 50/100-mile and crack that PR if so inclined.
3) Plan your own adventure each year. What an adventure looks like will vary from person to person. But if it scares you, cool. If it requires a bit of time, plan for it. If it requires resources/teamwork, recruit friends and venture buddies. A new adventure offers a chance to explore novel grounds and ensures I stay in good, not necessarily peak, condition. These adventures keep the love of running alive and well.”
3. Sarah Bergstrom
I grew up in northern GA and have always considered myself a runner, playing in the woods or chasing my siblings and friends around the neighborhood. I didn’t start running competitively until my freshman year of high school. In high school, I ran both cross-country and track. In cross-country, I placed 6th place in state as an individual my freshman year of high school and 2nd place in state as a team my junior year.
After high school, I was accepted to the US Naval Academy and graduated with a B.S. in Political Science. At the Academy, I was on the Navy Women’s Rugby team and Rugby taught me the versatility of running to have both speed and endurance during an 80 minute game of non-stop physical exertion. This was how I trained for my first marathon in 2007 the Shamrock Marathon in VA beach.
After the Academy, I was first stationed in Camp Lejeune, NC and graduated from Logistics Officer Course. Here I got a dog, my Golden Retriever named Rocky, and started running the trails on the weekends in the training areas. During my time in Lejeune, I ran my first trail marathon and Ultra 50K. From Lejeune, I was selected for the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA and started getting more serious about cross-training after a running injury. I started CrossFit Endurance (CFE) and since then have primarily used CFE to completely transform my running abilities to be a stronger, faster runner with better endurance. I ran my first JFK50 miler November 2017 using CFE’s training approach. I graduated from NPS in 2016 as a Data Management Officer with a M.S. in Information Science and am currently doing my payback tour at Marine Corps Systems Command at the Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps Program Office.
As a runner, reading Born to Run gave me confidence in my ability to push the limits in ultra racing; after all, humans were designed to run long distances for survival. I also run purely for the pleasure of running and think this mentality keeps me going on those long trail runs. Lastly, running has been a great social activity and sharing my adventures with others is what makes running a vital part of who I am.”
4. Gerry Hollis
I grew up in western CT, and was involved in sports from a young age eventually lettering in both football and wrestling. The Marine Corps was one of my earliest influences as the son of a Korea era Marine, and nephew to four other Vietnam era Marines. Following high school, I attended Wagner College with a wrestling scholarship and immediately entered the Marine Corps PLC program. I also participated in the football program, obtaining a varsity roster spot as a walk-on, going on to win a national title during my sophomore season.
After completion of OCS and college graduation, I accepted a commission and attended TBS in summer 1990; becoming an Infantry Officer as Desert Shield and Desert Storm were underway. My Marine Corps service included typical company level billets, training exercises, 22nd MEU deployment, as well as a South-Com Spec Warfare MTT. Humorously, the most interesting characterization of fleet time was ‘almost deployments’. I continued service in the Reserves in MEF operations billets, concluding in 1998.I’ve always generally remained fit and active, even while raising a family and beginning a financial services career but didn’t begin pursuing endurance sports until the age of 39. My first endurance effort was a 24 hour adventure race covering over 100 total miles. Map and compass multi-sport in the woods was a blast. No worries about noise or light discipline, no heavy pack and no bad guys – this was a different way to experience outdoors! This event spurned interest in endurance sports of any kind. I’ve since participated in scores of running, bike, multi-sport events on both road and trail, including midwest favorites like Hawk 50, Free State 100k and Ozark Trail 100. In Sept, I’ll complete my first IM event – Chattanooga, with my wife who’s a pretty serious ultrarunner and endurance athlete.My thoughts and personal philosophy regarding running: Its naturally human, and we should all run. Watch a small child – they run, everywhere. Running trails – differently than roads, is substantially better for mind and body as there’s a different focus of mental and physical effort. Running far – Go do it. You don’t have a limit other than that you’ve imposed artificially. Ultra-Racing – a practice exercise for life. Set a big goal, prepare, adjust, execute in adverse circumstances. Learn lessons, even fail but persevere and you will reach your objective.
5. Micha Shines
Micha was born in Busan S Korea and raised in Philadelphia. She played softball, karate, ballroom dance, tribal bellydance and earned a Psych Degree from University of PA. Micha was painfully shy and didn’t talk to anyone in school until 5th grade. In her own words:I took a leave of absence from college without telling my parents. My friend who was in the Reserves told me I should join the Marine Corps. I walked into his recruiter’s office and said I wanted to be a machine gunner and he laughed. I maxed out my flex arm hang and sit-ups on the spot. I took the ASVABs the next day and scored a 98. They tried to get me to go OCS at that point. I declined with my reasoning that I really thought Parris Island was so much more badass and knew I’d have to go back to school so I opted Reserves. My MOS was 6821 (weather observer) and went to Chanute AFB for 4 months. I was stationed at MCAS El Toro 93-94 then NAS Willow Grove for remainder of my reserve duty. ATDs in the summer at some really fabulous bases like Ft Dix, NJ. One year we actually had it at El Toro. Hahaha.Running was always my weak link. It was something I had to do to pass my PFT. My first inkling of wanting to run a marathon was hearing Oprah complete the MCM. My first registration was back in 2008 or so when urged by one of my dance students who was into running. I went to the local running store and got a pair of Brooks Glycerine, running tights and a tech tee. I had no idea how to train and after one or two runs, I abandoned the goal and I DNS’d, not that I even knew what a DNS was back then.
Fast forward 4 years, post divorce, post closing my business of 10 years. I was overweight, smoking in the closet, and really depressed. I felt beaten down and defeated. I had 4 young children to take care of and after some horrible post divorce dating experiences, I thought I’d give running another go. At this point, I decided that I am my weakest link. And running was a weak link. I had started cleaning up my diet and lost a few pounds and tried running one day. I actually pulled out those old Brooks. I couldn’t even run a mile at that point. Then one day I ran 6 miles on a treadmill and it felt great. Then I decided to do a virtual half marathon to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims. I nearly died. But I was hooked. I did a couple of 5k races and then after running the MCM Historic Half, and a Diva Half Marathon, I signed up for MCM in 2013. Long story short, still had no real idea about training and after a long European cruise a week before race day, my then boyfriend and I both DNSd. I felt so shitty about this one because I started getting involved with online running groups and I’d had some great running moments. I was determined to show up next time.
My first marathon was 2014 MCM. I finished. Afterward, I got it into my head that I could do an ultra. What’s another 6-ish Miles I thought? I plugged the trigger on Jan 1, 2015 to run my first ultra. North Face in DC. Then came Altras, a partial tear in calf muscle, but I showed up and finished.2015. But I didn’t feel like a real ultrarunner until I finished my first 50 Miler. To train for this, I ran a self supported multi day 200k in Korea, the summer of 2015. It took me 5 days of running. Fell a little short of my goal, but still proud of myself. I wanted to do it in 4 days…a 50k every day. But one day was so hot and humid I could only muster a half marathon.
- Jan 2016 I finished Avalon 50 and I finally felt comfortable claiming I was an ultrarunner. April 2016 I returned to North Face for my second 50 Miler. I haven’t done much racing in 2017-2018 due to car accident last year. Got into cycling and triathlon but we won’t talk about that here. 🤣
- It’s been a wonderful journey and partly due to MURCA I’ve come to re-embrace my love for ultrarunning. This year, I’ll run MCM a 4th time if I don’t do Javelina 100k. If I run MCM instead, I’ll do Devil Dog 100k in December. My 2019 “A” race is the Zion 100. Bucket list races: Leadville 100, both mountain bike and foot race.
Micha’s three nuggets of wisdom:1) Be resolved. Ultra happens in the mind first. Then train as consistently as possible. It matters.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. Great to be competitive with others and yourself but there does exist a healthy boundary. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Self-shaming is never productive.
- Mentor others along the journey. We learn so much by helping others.
6. Frank Bozanich
Frank Bozanich is one of the most naturally fleet-footed athletes in the history of ultrarunning. He began as a wrestler and sprinter in high school, and later as a member of the track team at Eastern Washington University ran 10.2 for 100 meters and sub-50 seconds for the quarter mile. He would later run sub-30 minutes for 10k and 2:25 for the marathon. Prior to becoming an ultrarunner he served for 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam war in the late 1960’s.
Like the 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Park Barner, Bozanich moved up to ultras in the early 1970’s, when there were barely a few dozen races longer than the marathon in this country. His ultra career focused mainly on the short-range ultras (50km and 50 miles), mostly because it was almost impossible to find races any longer in the mid-70’s. The 50km and 50 mile distances were the first ultra distances at which official USA National Championships were ever held, and, eager for top competition, Frank gravitated right to them. His first ultra was a barnburner, the 1974 USA National 50km Championship in his home state of Washington, where he finished 3rd in 3:02, averaging under 6 minutes per mile. Two years later he entered his first 50 miler and won it in 5:30. Later that same hear he traveled all the way across the country and won the USA 50 Mile National Championship in New York City, running 5:36. Over the course of the next five years we would win two more USA National 50 Mile titles, running multiple 50 mile times in the 5:15-5:20 range, and ultimately notching a 50 mile best of 5:14:36. He also averaged under 6 minutes per mile for 50km three more times.
In his definitive history of American Ultrarunning, British ultra historian Andy Milroy picks Bozanich and fellow Hall of Famer Allan Kirik as the two key U.S. male ultrarunners of the second half of the decade of the 70’s, when ultrarunning as an organized sport finally went global and mainstream.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Bozanich was one of the first Americans to seek out top international competition by traveling to the big, fast European road ultras as they began to become fixtures of the nascent international aspect of the ultra sport. This gave him a taste of the longer 100km distance, which became his steppingstone to his lifetime signature performance. In January 1979 he traveled to Miami where, in warm conditions, he obliterated a stellar field of fellow Americans as well as Park Barner’s three year old American 100km record. He became the first American to break 7 hours for 100km, running 6:51:20 and shattering the old mark by 20 minutes. The solo tour de force put him at #13 on the all-time world 100km list. The following year he left his mark on a newly emerging phenomenon which would soon become the most prominent feature of American ultrarunning: the 100 Mile Trail Race. He ran 15:17:20 to set a long-standing course record in the Old Dominion Trail 100 Miler in Virginia, winning by almost an hour.
Of all the superstar athletes featured in the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame, Frank Bozanich has ultimately turned out to be the most durable. He is the first and only one to have continued to compete seriously, and achieve ongoing competitive success in masters age-group competition, through to the present day. Now in his late 60’s, he continues to achieve competitive successes at a national-class level in ultra age-group competition. And he still does pretty well overall, too. In fact, he holds the unique distinction of having won an ultramarathon outright, finishing first overall, in each of the past five consecutive decades: the 70′, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s.
Citation: AUA Ultrarunning Hall of Fame 2013 Award Citation
7. Christine Taranto
Christine is the first MURCAn in the Spotlight for September and I am excited to share her story with you. I got to know Christine out in Monterey during NPS. I tried to keep up with her on group runs and rides around the Monterey peninsula, but this lady is FAST! She is humble too, in her bio below, she leaves out small details like winning the Armed Forces Marathon Championship, and being USMC Athlete of the Year TWICE (2013 & 2015). In her own words:
I’m a Navy brat hailing from Pittsburgh, PA (Go Steelers) who grew up as a competitive swimming and then transitioned to running when I couldn’t stand looking at the bottom of a pool any longer. Turned out for the best as I won two PA state championships (XC and indoor 3200m)…fun fact I was a volunteer librarian all through high school.
I have 11 years of USMC service, plus some time at “The Boat School” or USNA. Logistics selected me and I couldn’t be happier. One deployment to Iraq and one WESTPAC on board the USS Comstock while at 1stMLG, plus three “deployments” (ha) to 29 Palms while the OpsO at MWSS 272 at glorious New River.
Athletics has always been a part of my life. Running literally grew on me during middle school and high school. My relationship with running contributes to so much of who I am now. Even as the relationship has changed. I went from being a two time state champion, to quitting the team in college (to ride bikes), to using it to maintain my sanity on deployments, to making the All Marine Running Team, and now finally after a 19 month hiatus due to major injury….I have the best sense of self than I have ever had before.
1) Be patient (with everything). Good things come to those who wait and put in the work.
2) On race day, HAVE FUN. Trust in your training, you’ve done the hard work.
3) Remember, running enhances your life, it does not define you or your life. Remember to embrace all parts of who you are and be grateful that you GET to run, you never HAVE to run.
8. Bob Coolidge
Bob “Iceman” Coolidge is the second MURCAn in the Spotlight this month. Bob is a prime reason why MURCA is such a special group, guys like him are American treasures. Enjoy his story below, in his own words.
I grew up in Omaha Nebraska in the projects, a minority among minorities.. it helped form my life. I fought.. alot.. both on the streets and in school.. when I went. My father who was a boxing fan would tell me if you like to fight why dont you go to a gym , box in the golden gloves.. I eventually took his advice and went to a gym .. at last something I was good at. I went on to win five Golden Glove titles in Minneapolis, MN where we had moved when I was 15.
I dropped out of High School when I was 17. Got married at 18, and joined the Marine Corps a few months later in 1971.
I went in as an 0331. Was with 3/5 at Camp Pendleton. I was awaiting deployment when my wife had our first son and I went home on emergency leave. When I returned to base and was checking in a an LT Mentioned to a Sgt that one more man was needed for TAD for base MP’s. I quickly said I would like to be a MP and spent the rest of my time at MPCo. Security Bn. Camp Pendleton. Discharged in 1973.
I returned to boxing, fighting professionally and amassing a 22-3-1 record. My last fight was in Atlantic City against the #7 rated middleweight in the world.
I had my last professional boxing match in 1982. That fight was a make or break fight for me. Going into it I told my wife Moe that if I lost I would stop boxing. I lost.. no excuses.. so that part of my life was over.
After that I sat around a few months.. I was restless.. I was not used to inactivity.. I saw a article in the local paper that there was a upcoming 10k race. I had always ran while i was boxing but had never ran that far. I went and ran the 10k with no training. Finished in a bit more than 47min. I was hooked.
I was 31. So a few months later this was 1983 I heard about grandmas marathon and hustled my entry to the post office and I was in.. finished my 1st in 4:13.. i went on to run Grandma’s eight times.
Twin Cities was about four months later so i figured why not run it as well. I finished in 3:55 .. I finished Twin Cities 15 times over the years. To me Twin Cities was the best course because of the variety.. but Grandmas was the most fun. They party .. those college kids as you come into town light it up!!!
I recall running the Omaha marathon a couple times. I remember being about a mile from the finish and we ran by a bar.. ole boy outside with a beer yelled at me.. suck it up!! You can break 4hrs. Get going.. and I did.. suck it up.. broke 4 hrs.
I ran San Francisco.. seen the sights.. ran the hills..I ran St. Louis.. drove down.. ran 26.2 and drove back.. I drove down to Austin, TX in an ice storm.. ate a 24oz steak the night before the race. Don’t do that.. ran Austin like a boss..
I ran Las Vegas twice. They dropped us off in the middle of the desert and you ran back down the strip. Ran my best time there. 3:51. I ran the 1st RocknRoll Marathon in San Diego in 1996, worst organized marathon I ever ran.
My wife Moe died in 2002 , right after she died I decided I would run a marathon for cancer research. I contacted the memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center in NYC. I ran the Dublin Marathon for Freds team.. raising over $7,000 for them.
After that I lost my marathon drive… for 10 years I did not run much. In 2012 I was turning 60.. I saw an article on the Marine Corps Marathon. I thought that would be a worthy goal on turning 60. So I ran for the Semper Fi Fund raising funds for veterans. I ran Marine Corps 5 times total.
So here I am. 66 now. Still got a few steps on the man, trying to keep the gap. I ran two ultras last year and I got my 1st 50 mile race coming up September 29th. I can’t imagine running 50 miles. But then I never thought I would run 26 miles.. I’ve heard the saying.. IF YOUR GOAL DON’T SCARE YOU, ITS NOT A CHALLENGE. So once again.. I will challenge myself.
This 50 miler is my bucket list race. I’m not looking past it.. but I’m going out east in Dec to crew a friend at the Devil Dog 100 miler.. I see they have a 100k.
If I had to pass any wisdom along I would just say two things:
1) You will never know what your capable of if you dont try things you are not sure you can do. Don’t wait.. time will not wait for you.
2) When you are out there on the trail or road.. and you come up on ole boy struggling with 13-14 min miles.. be encouraging, show courtesy and respect.. yesterday he may have been you.. and tomorrow you may be him..
9. Canice Harte
I was born in Port Jefferson, NY and moved to Mill Valley, CA in 4th grade. So while I speak both East coast and West coast I consider CA home. More specifically Marin County. Living in Marin in the 70’s was a great place to be a kid. Mountain Biking didn’t exist yet and almost no body trail ran so as kids we had Mt Tamm (Mill Valley is located here) to ourselves.
I played the typical sports but in Jr. Highschool I figured out I could run. I was that kid who was always in front of the P.E. class when we had to run around the field and I was asked to run Cross Country. I did this through Highschool along with wrestling and enjoyed both sports.
I knew I wanted to be a Marine from childhood and on Christmas break (1984) from Highschool I asked to borrow my mother’s car. I was only 17 at the time so I had to come back with the recruiter to get my Mothers signature. My mother was in tears but I was in and couldn’t be happier.
I went to Boot Camp September of 85’ in San Diego and then to ITS at Pendleton. I came out an 0311 and went straight to Amphib Recon School in Little Creek, VA. I was so nervous that I would fail that I buckled down and did quite well in my class. This only matters in that when I arrived at 3rd Recon I was assigned to Bravo Company based on my performance at ARS. Bravo Company had the DRP (Deep Reconnaissance Platoon) and I eventually ended up here as a result. This allowed me to go to several schools and participate in advanced training. Of course, in the late 80’s we never thought there would be another war so I got out in 1989 to go to school.
While attending school at Sonoma State university I took a job in a climbing store and this began a career in the Outdoor Industry. Most notably as it relates to this group I ran the softgoods division for Salomon and was in charge of all the apparel, bags, packs and footwear for quite some time. Also, while running Sales for Sierra Designs back in the day we purchased Ultimate Direction and I began a long friendship with the founder and now creator of Ultra Spire Bryce Thatcher.
I eventually started my own company, Waterbox and we made steel, plastic and glass water bottles. We eventually sold to Nathan Sports and I was their V.P. of Licensing and Innovation as part of the deal. Bryce and I would cross paths here as he was stepping away to start Ultra Spire and this left me and the team with the need to reenergize the brand.
We hired Jim Frazier as V.P. of product and together with the team we introduced the Vapor series of running vests, the L.E.D. lights that you now see and a complete redesign of all the bottles. During this time, I received several patents and as part of my deal, and since the patents really belonged to Nathan I was given $1 and a cheesesteak (Nathan was based in South Philly) for each patent as part of my contract.
For my part in trail running and in ultra’s I first became aware of ultras when a friend and co-worker Toper Gaylord signed up to run Western States. I never heard of this and it was around 97 or 98 and I couldn’t wrap my head around running a hundred miles. All I knew is Toph was running 10 miles before work and 10 miles after work and when the race was finished he was psyched to have his buckle.
I was commuting to work on my motorcycle one morning on Hwy 80 outside of Berkeley, CA when a steel pipe fell off a contractor’s truck in front of me. I tried to avoid it, but it directly impacted my right knee at about 55 mph and it was as ugly as you might expect. The accident is a story in of itself, but I managed to keep the bike upright and rode the final 4 miles to work.
My knee cap was completely shattered, and I had to sign a release to have my leg amputated. Luckily it didn’t come to that and four surgeries later and I found myself in the doctor’s office working through trying to walk normally again and for some reason I was channeling Toph and I said I wanted to run Western States. The doctor laughed out loud and told me with a dose of tough love that I wouldn’t be able to run 10 miles again let alone run 100.
That didn’t sit well with me but there wasn’t much I could do at the time other than keep working through my rehab and move on with life. Fast forward to my time with Salomon and I started running again, fast forward a bit more and a friend asked me to pace her during her first Wasatch 100 and fast forward yet again to when I was horribly out of shape and thought of being fit was just a memory and that’s when I signed up for my first ultra, the Wasatch 100.
I made all the rookie mistakes one can but, in the end, I got it done. I was within sight of the finish line with a mile or two to go (the course variation that went around the golf course) and was thinking of my accident and all the surgeries and pain and knew I was about to finish 100 miles. It didn’t matter that I was slow, all I cared about was completing the goal and giving that doctor the giant middle finger.
I’ll close this out with one final rehab story and that’s to say that I got in to Western in 2016 and got my own buckle and Toph was there with the best high five ever.
Never give up, keep fighting, and push forward. Who knows what will happen.
10. Adam Casey
Someone in the group read an article in Trail Runner Magazine about Adam and noticed he was a Marine, so naturally we pulled him into MURCA. Adam has an inspiring story of overcoming obstacles and how tough a human being can be when thrown a few curve balls. Here’s Adam’s story, in his own words:
“Like most people who have a sports/military background, running was always a form of punishment and something I saw as a means-to-an-end and less as a personal identifier. Having set this outlandish goal to run 5 marathons in 5 weeks when I didn’t make it through BUD/S and was in a deeply depressed state of mind, I came across ultra-marathons when I met a cliché running-purist as part of the San Diego Track Club. He encouraged me to give the longer distances a try saying, “every step past 26.2 is like a spiritual epiphany” and so I signed up for my first ultra, Running With The Devil, just outside of the Las Vegas desert. After my experience with cancer and everything involved with such a horrendous diagnosis, running was what helped me reclaim my mental health. Now that it has become absolutely ingrained into who I consider myself to be, running is how I process all the stress of daily life and something I genuinely get excited about. After I graduate this December, I’m (hopefully) embarking on my own self-supported stage-“race” down in the Peruvian Andes for the months of January and February.
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I was quite the unextraordinary kid in both school and athletics. When I decided to go to Mizzou for college, I became overwhelmed with a conviction to make the football team as a walk-on and miraculously managed to end up playing 5 seasons for the Tigers. During my third season though, I met someone who irrevocably changed my life for the better and because of her, I started a 501(c)-3 non-profit, I Do It For Her, to help low-income youth in the St. Louis area receive a quality college education through partial scholarships. Not the typical “relationship” most people often think of when I start to tell this story, she was the basis for my 2016 TEDx talk “Why You Should Fall Recklessly In Love” and I still reflect on that period of my life as a way to constantly challenge myself to go beyond my comfort zones.
This is going to probably sting but I originally entered the military though the Navy as an Officer trying to make it through BUD/S and become a Navy SEAL… Clearly, that did not happen when I was unable to continue training during the infamous evolution known as “Hell Week”. Thankfully, and I sincerely mean that, I was able to transfer into the Marines and subsequently become a Marine Infantry Officer. After getting orders for 2/6 at Camp Lejeunne, dreams of serving in a combat role became derailed again when I was diagnosed with an advanced Stage-IV cancer that required 6-months of torturous chemotherapy. Because of that disease, and a previously undisclosed diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis, I was medically retired in 2016. Even though my service was 180 degrees opposite than what I had set out to achieve all those years ago, I am still damn proud to call myself a Marine and to have put part of that community.
Like most people who have a sports/military background, running was always a form of punishment and something I saw as a means-to-an-end and less as a personal identifier. Having set this outlandish goal to run 5 marathons in 5 weeks when I didn’t make it through BUD/S and was in a deeply depressed state of mind, I came across ultra-marathons when I met a cliche running-purist as part of the San Diego Track Club. He encouraged me to give the longer distances a try saying, “every step past 26.2 is like a spiritual epiphany” and so I signed up for my first ultra, Running With The Devil, just outside of the Las Vegas desert. After my experience with cancer and everything involved with such a horrendous diagnosis, running was what helped me reclaim my mental health. Now that it has become absolutely ingrained into who I consider myself to be, running is how I process all the stress of daily life and something I genuinely get excited about. After I graduate this December, I’m (hopefully) embarking on my own self-supported stage-“race” down in the Peruvian Andes for the months of January and February.
The first piece of wisdom I think I’m qualified to pass on would be to come up with some sort of personal mantra that you can focus on when you run. One of mine is “This just is and this too shall pass”. Hardly on the same level as a Jack London quote but being able to focus on those words when I’ve hit a mental/physical low point during a race reminds me that emotions are fleeting and are pretty much the only thing in this world you have absolute control over. Next, make a checklist. On my wall is a laminated checklist that I use before I go out on any of my long weekend runs as well as a pre-race checklist. There’s a reason why pilots and surgeons use these simple but effective organizational tools and that’s because they work and not being able to find your mid-race pick-me-up snack at an aid station is something easily avoidable. Last, run happy and with gratitude. When the suck starts to set in on a run or in a race, be thankful that you have the ability to feel that hurt. Remind yourself that there are people around the world that are deprived of running by things so much more serious than we tend to recognize (e.g. famine, confined to wheelchairs, poverty, etc.)”
11. Rich McKnight
In the short time Rich has been in MURCA, he has brought us some great discounts and also brings some valuable wisdom and experience in our beloved sport. And Rich’s opinion of “junk miles” is music to my ears; there is no such thing as junk miles and it pains me to hear people say those words. So MURCA, here’s more about Rich, in his own words.
I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, commonly referred to as Mob Town USA. A tough hard working steel mill town. My middle and high school years were spent at the local boxing gym getting my ass kicked by my older brothers. Such good memories!
MOS 1833 Assault Amphibian Vehicle (YATYAS). I was based out of Camp Lejeune, NC. and did two 6 month Med Floats in the Mediterranean. I was tasked with a unique job during the Golf War/Operation Desert Storm. I was assigned to a General Engineer Support Unit, GESU. My Amtrak and crew were tasked to breach one of six lanes into Iraq by using 1450 lbs of c4.
I met my wife, Erin, (also an accomplished and bad ass ultra runner) at a trail race and we’ve been running and racing together ever since. And yes, sometimes she beats me. I’ve finished 55 ultras, of which, 15 were 100 miles or longer finishes. My Western States 100 finish was in epic fashion. I literally passed out crossing the finish line. In 2015, I ran Vol States 500k which is a point-to-point race ran across Tennessee in July on the road. Of course, I ran the solo self supported division. Currently, I’m training for Arches 50 mile race in January. I turn 50 the day of the race and am shooting for a PR <9:30. Don’t tell my wife but secretly I’d like to toe the line at The Barkley Marathons.
Words of wisdom:
(1) Ultra running is a mindset. I hear runners all the time saying “I signed up for XYZ Race” and “I hope I can finish” or “I’m gonna try and finish”…etc. With that mindset you will fail. I never toe the line thinking like that. I have 4 100 mile DNF’s and all were because I gave up. I QUIT. My mind beat me. If race directors would list runners as a QUITTER and not a DNF I think more would finish. Webster definition of quitter: “a person who gives up easily or does not have the courage or determination to finish a task.”
(2) Miles in the bank. Each mile you run is one more in the bank. The more miles you have in the bank the easier it will be to have a strong mindset and finish.There is no such thing as “junk miles”. I’ll take junk miles over no miles. Deposit those miles.
(3) Nutrition is tricky. One thing is certain. If you have no gas in the tank the engine can’t move the car. The average or median marathon finishing time in 2016 for men in U.S. marathons was 4:22:07, according to Running USA. Do you know why runners hit “the wall” in a marathon around 18-20 miles? I do. The body has around 3 hours of stored energy available for use. That puts the average marathoner around mile 18 and they bonk “hit the wall”. Simply put, if you’re not eating, you run out of “gas”. This is compounded the longer the distance of the race. Eat early and eat often.
12. Jeff Rock
The first in the Spotlight for 2019 is Jeff Rock. If you’ve been around MURCA for a while, then you know about Jeff. He has finished the Arrowhead 135 several times and is a member of the prestigious Order of the Hrimthurs. Please enjoy Jeff’s story, in his own words, below.
“I grew up in a broken home in a little Northern Minnesota town.(where I live today) I’m still a little broken myself as a result. So of course being from northern Minnesota that means I played hockey and was skating as soon as I could walk.(literally) I’ve got pictures of me skating outside at 1 year old. I have an older brother and younger sister so as the middle child I was of course the cream of our little crop. Actually my Brother, being 3 years older was always much bigger, stronger, and faster than me.(he was also a Tuefel Hunden if Amtrakers count). He was the best natural athlete of the family, but damned if I wasn’t the hardest worker. We all played 3 sports. I Captained the High School football team and may still hold the record for being the slowest running back to ever be named all conference.(5.0 – 40😂)
As the 1st Gulf War kicked off I signed up over a drunken argument with friends about getting drafted and A buddy saying he’s move to Canada if he does. The very next day the recruiter saw me coming from a mile away. He showed me a pamphlet of FAST company with all the rappelling, CQB, and high speed low drag type stuff. I said that was what I wanted to do. He then proceeded to sign me up as a 0311. Little did that fucker know, I actually made it to FAST Company, and got to do all that cool shit. While attached to FAST we had 2 major deployments to Cuba to escort Haitians back to Haiti. With less than a year left as my platoon geared up for our rotation to Somalia we got a new Company Commander and he shipped out everyone that had been there over 2 1/2 yrs. All that training down the fucking drain. little surprise I was pissed as they sent me to Pendleton undeployable with less than a year left. I landed at the School of Infantry and was an instructor for 52 area guard my final year.
Growing up I ran for track, football, and hockey. I would could beat most of the hockey team in our annual 5 miler, but if you put me against a good cross country runner or any sprinter I would get smoked! Fastest 3 miler was for our PFT’s. I was just seconds under 18 every time. Goals for this year are to finish at Arrowhead 135, a finish and top 5 at the Iditarod 350, and a sub 30hr Superior 100(that would be a hour and a 1/2 PR) notable races thus far are Tuscobia 160, Arrowhead 135, and Actif Epica 162k all in 2017 which got me into the Order of the Hrimthurs.(google it) 400 miles of racing in less than 6 weeks. Somehow I took 2nd place in 2 of the 3 races. My bucket list race is the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000. Gonna need to win the lottery to get there tho, but ya got to dream big.
Three Nuggets of wisdom:
1) Don’t take this running shit too seriously. It’s supposed to be fun.
2) Just because a race offers drop bags at every aid station don’t be a douche and have 10 drop bags in a 100. 2 is more than enough. Probably don’t need any if you have a crew.
3) With a little hard work, grit, and determination you can do almost anything. That being said your mind will always give out before your body does. The biggest obstacle we face is believing it can be done.”
13. Billy Hagee (Jesus Tarzan)
Billy is a source of comedic relief and entertainment in MURCA, but he’s also one tough MF with an inspiring story. Please enjoy his story, in his own words, below:
“When I was a child if I was going somewhere, I was running. (Lt Dan…magic legs) I ran all the time. I always wanted to see how fast I could go. I wanted to know if I could out run this thing or that. I remember once I really tried to out run a train the same way Clark Kent did when Christopher Reeves played Superman. I loved running. As I got older my transport was upgraded to a set of wheels. Over time as I got older my running seemed to only happen as a punishment during sports. I learned to hate it. I also found it harder and harder to breath. My coach noticed it once after practice and mentioned that he thought I had asthma. My parents fervently disagreed. They said what I had was called being out of shape. I just needed to run more.
I played football a lot. Loved it. Was told by everyone that I would one day play in the NFL. However, apparently you have to attend school and do your school work to be able to play. Dumb said me. So I didn’t play anymore. Come time for graduation I had few options, stay in BFE Methville or join the Marine Corps. I was told chicks dig guys with teeth so in 1996 off I went to the yellow footprints.
As far as running goes in the Marines it was the same for me. I couldn’t breathe. This wasn’t anything new for me, yet I still didn’t know why. I always just chalked it up as being a poor runner. My unit (FAST) prided itself in its PFT standards. 18:00 3 mile was the minimum. Which eventually I was able to achieve. Yet was still one of the weaker runners in my unit. My next unit was at OCS in Quantico. Running wasn’t as important as it was at FAST. We focused most of our time as dog and ponies demonstrating to officer candidates on how to do navigate the various obstacles and combat courses offered to them. This was more in my wheel house and to me loads more fun, especially since I didn’t have to run as often.
Many years later after leaving our beloved Corps I was embarking on my second date with my would-be wife. Her idea was to go for a little “fun” run with a chick who has been running marathons. That chick was of course was her. Me being the machismo guy agreed as if it were another day enjoying nice glass of chardonnay in my leather booty shorts. Truth be told I hadn’t run since I left the Corps, so I was maybe a little worried.
Long story short, after being asked many times by her if I were ‘ok’, I became slightly irritated with the repeated question. When we had completed the run, she asked me a final time, “are you sure you’re ok, you sounded like you were dying out there.” “No, I was good”. “You were NOT good, you sound like you smoke 2 packs a day”. “I bet you have asthma”. This led to the discovery of my 50% lung capacity and being prescribed all manner of different inhalers. I always like to brag that I achieved an 18:00 3 mile…with one lung. Take that all you gazelles! I started running again when I had a slight bit of a medical scare. Fatty Liver Disease. I know right. I said the same thing. How the hell do I have that? Didn’t make sense at first. I had just retired from playing football in the minors 2 years before. I was in amazing shape. How? Hard living and all that muscle I had migrated down to increase the size of the turtle on my navel. I was developing a nice little dad bod. It was sexy. Also maybe a little deadly.
Anyway, it was suggested that I start running so I signed up for a half marathon. Further than I had ever run. It was a Goliath for me. So I did something I had never done before. Followed the training plan…exactly. I am very much a rebel, do what I want kind of guy. Freelancing any training plan was my norm. I mentioned that because it always sticks out to me when I think back on it. I finished the race. No fanfare. No celebration. Just me hobbling back to my car. Left there and went to work for a 12 hr night shift. This minor accomplishment would be the catalyst in changing my life I continued to run on and off for the next few years running different races. Until a friend asked, “hey there’s this big race that’s called the Bigfoot Ultra that is around Mt. St. Helens, wanna do it?” “Hold my beer.” I said. I don’t always think things through. It’s more fun that way.
My first ultra resulted in an epic DNF. With 40 deg temps, record rain fall that would rival the biblical flood story, and winds exceeding 50 mph, my day ended when I stumbled upon a lady who was obviously hypothermic, and we were 12 miles from the nearest manned aid station. It’s a long story that I have written about, if anyone is interested, I can post it. I always say ultras are like tattoos, once you do one, you really want to do another. I began signing up for races I wasn’t ready for. I didn’t want to sign up for a race I knew I could do. That wasn’t challenging for me. I wanted to see how far I could go. I didn’t care about the medals or the prestige of completing a certain race. I was only curious as to what I could accomplish.
I developed a mindset based on the ancient Greek philosophy Aretè. It’s hard to translate it into English because it is more of a concept, or lifestyle than a word. We translate it as excellence or virtue. The athletes and warriors would train not just their bodies, but also their minds and their spirits. They believed that you couldn’t reach your highest potential if you only train a part of yourself. They sought a mutual quest for excellence. If their opponent wasn’t at their very best, how could they achieve their very best potential? When I choose a race I am looking for something at it’s very best, if you will.
As far as the sport of ultra running goes I haven’t achieved any notoriety and won’t ever. My goal is to never achieve anything outside of whom I wish to become. As someone who learned to hate and fear running, it has become my opponent. The one I am using to reach a greater potential. If you have seen my film, you know that I don’t love running. Yet I have found myself going to it in my darkest hours.
The hardest ultra for me personally was the Bellingham Trail Marathon. It’s set in the town of Bellingham, WA and you traverse through the Chuckanut mountains. It has 4k feet of elevation gain over the course of the run. While not technically an ultra, it did come out to be 28 miles, and by far harder than any 50k and a few 50m I have done. Though the terrain and distance definitely made it challenging, what made it exceedingly harder was the deep state of depression I was in. I nearly DNS’d the race before it ever began.
This is not something I usually talk about. It is hard to discuss due to the sheer stigma that is attached to it. As soon as you mention it, a host of ideals and prejudices fill the awkward void of silence. I have been diagnosed Bi-polar II. Or what some still call manic depression. I hate it. Maybe even fear it a little. It dictates my life. It reflects the way I feel about running. Interestingly enough, when I crash, the one thing I find myself still desiring to do is go for a run. With something I don’t “love” to do, I somehow still found myself desiring to do it when all I could manage to do was sleep.
I have used running as a way to cope. A way to combat the illness. I somehow fought my way to run one of the hardest runs in the state and finished very well. Was even called a beast a couple times (though it may have been because I was much bigger than most of the runners. Was it a fat joke?) Often, I will be lying in bed questioning the meaning of life and an urge to run will push me out the door. My wife reminded me of this the morning of the BTM, that once I got going, I would be glad I was out there. Of course, when I was scrambling a mile up Chinscraper (named for its sheer vertical accent) I was “blessing” the hillside with many F💣‘s and 🐂💩 as all I wanted to do was DNF. Interesting how the absence of a nearby aid station will keep you moving.
I don’t think it is necessary to illustrate all that running is and can do for someone. You all know. You have experienced it. Running has changed my life. Changed my mind. Changed my spirit. It has become a tool for me to combat something I didn’t ask for and quite frankly don’t fucking want. It has taught me not to quit. That another step is possible. No matter how much pain we are in. That is more valuable than we can truly comprehend, especially with the disease I struggle with.
I don’t know if I can say that I have a favorite race. They are all significant in the fact that each one grows me. Changes me. The harder it is the more I change. As I mentioned before I am not there for any of the trinkets or extras that the RD’s provide (though some are nice like the whisky). I am simply there to do battle with a demon that kicks my ass far too often. Yet I still choose to venture into and run through this valley of darkness.
I am very grateful to be a part of this group. I appreciate watching everyone on the posts. I get excited when I see someone get into a race. Watching as updates are given on the status of your run. Even enjoying Heather eat more pie than she was capable of. This group has been awesome, and I look forward to what’s ahead.”
14. Heather Griffith
Heather spent 6 1/2 years in a Marine Corps Reserve Unit with a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011-2012. Most of her time in the Corps was spent as the training NCOIC. She helped to coordinate training aspects for the unit, from ranges to field ops, to teaching junior Marines. Heather ended her time in the Corps to raise her family as her husband took on the endeavor of becoming a Green Beret.
Heather is just shy of 2 years of running under her belt, and it started as a simple check on the bucket list with the Marine Corps Marathon in 2017, which was her first race. From there, she immediately jumped into the ultra-scene running her first 50k one month after MCM. Since then she has run several 50’s, three 50 milers, and a 100k. Her first attempt at 100 miles was this past November, resulting in her first DNF at the 70-mile mark.
Running has been more than a stress reliever and outlet for Heather. Many times, she finds herself thinking of her friend. Their friendship goes back to MOS school, and they served in the same unit and deployed together. Three years ago, he committed suicide, and every time Heather hits the pavement or the trail, their friendship comes to mind. To add to the emotional struggle, Heather felt she had lost herself in raising her young children. Every step forward on a run was a journey to finding herself again and attempting to heal emotional wounds of losing such a close friend. Running helped her to get away from all the negative and focus on the positive. The harder the run, the better she felt.
When she first started running, Heather was not aware that ultramarathons even existed. In the middle of her marathon training, a friend mentioned he had run a 50k, and that was the opening of Pandoras box. Heather became captivated with seeing how far she could take herself. She ran her first 100k just two months after her first marathon, which was also her first trail run. She does not recommend running your first 100k that way. She described it as a giant suffer fest, but she finished it. That race gave her the confidence to attempt her first 100 miler. Knowing that it would be difficult, she wanted to challenge. Although her DNF at Chattanooga 100 was devastating, she realizes she needed the failure to learn to pick herself up get back to the grind quickly.
Words of wisdom from Heather…
- When on the run, fuel before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty. There is no such thing as “the wall” if you stay on top of your nutrition. (A lesson solidified at Chattanooga 100.)
- Protect your mental space with everything you have. Be selective of who you let in.
- Luck favors the prepared.
15. Maggie Seymour
I started running in 8th grade because I was tired of losing every softball game we played. In my school those two seasons conflicted. I figured if I ran cross country I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to win. Ha! I hated the first mile I ever ran and my coach told me that running was like scotch, you have to acquire a taste for it. I ran throughout high school and while I loved races, what I remember most about that time is the closeness of my team. We spent so much time together – even had a co-ed locker room. Our coach did our laundry and fed us breakfast every day, snacks, and even sometimes dinner. I loved my team.
I gave up running in college, all fitness really. I got back into it as I started applying for officer school in the Marine Corps. It made me pay for my absence. Running was a necessary evil during the first year or so of training. I didn’t enjoy being forced to run. I didn’t enjoy running in a group, I always felt like I was trying to keep up, like the run was never my own. One particularly tough training day I hopped off the bus, so frustrated with the day and the actions of my peers, and I took off running. I didn’t have a watch or map or route in mind. I just ran until I was lost and no longer frustrated. The run was mine again.
I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2008, while at the Basic School. I figured that would be good motivation to get back into running. It wasn’t. The week before the marathon I saw the calendar notification “MCM, one week.” I mentioned it in class (I was in MOS school at the time) and my friend bet me that I couldn’t run the thing without training. He bet me a Ruth’s Chris steak dinner and I accepted. I showed up completely unprepared and not just under trained, but untrained. The closest thing to preparation I did was creating a playlist and buying some crocs for the ride home. I told myself I’d run the race, eat my dinner, and slap a 26.2 sticker on the back of my car and be done with it.
I can’t remember my time, probably close to 6 hours. I do remember lying on the bathroom floor the next night sobbing with my blistered feet in the air trying to understand why anyone would do that twice. It felt like someone was holding hot plates to the soles of my feet.
A few months later my friend (also a Marine) told me she read about a race in Florida – 35 miles along the beach. In true Marine fashion I countered “Well there’s this 50 mile race too,” to which she upped the game by mentioning the Umstead 100. Well, any ultra runner will tell you the rest of the story.
Most of my running has been unscripted. I’m often the least prepared runner at the start line, showing up 5 minutes prior missing socks or a sports bra, maybe with a tight head from too many glasses of red wine the night prior. Which is probably largely why I never win any races and why I’ve had to drop out of many more, but that’s ok. Running for me isn’t about that. I like to go fast and I like to compete, and I’m definitely out there searching for something, it’s just usually not a certain time or place. I rarely remember course details – I’ve run the MCM 10 times now and couldn’t give you a single course direction – but I remember how I felt. I remember what I thought about or what epiphanies I had. I remember what the course taught me about failing or achieving. That’s what I love about running – it’s always there. You can fail, you can show up after a decade hiatus, it’s still there.
My run across America has certainly been the hardest “race” I’ve ever run. It’s taken me a year to even be able to jump back into some of those memories. There was so much pain and doubt and loneliness. But that’s the paradox of running, the more you suffer the more you cherish the experience. Running has been an integral part of my life, but I’ve never viewed it as my whole life. I don’t live to run. I’ll skip a race or a training run if the happy hour runs a little late. Running enhances my life but doesn’t rule it. It’s the unstructured freedom in my day or week. It’s the one thing I don’t have to make a list for, follow up with emails, or edit. It belongs to me and whomever I want to share it with.