Category Archives: Running and Cycling

Remembering Rebecca

I’m back home, fresh off the Grandmaster 100K in sunny Beaver Dam, Arizona and the surrounding desert. Feeling pretty good, considering, and enjoying the rest days. I have quite a story from the ultra (two, actually), and I was all set to tell you about it.

But today I learned something that forces me to put all that aside, and I’m going to share that with you instead.

I’ve written before about Rebecca Gartrell, who, before we ever actually met in person, chased me across the state of Michigan. Literally. On foot.

We were both running the 2018 Veterans Memorial, a 150-mile race from Ludington on Lake Michigan to Bay City on Lake Huron. The race raises money for Victory Gym, a nonprofit and free gym for veterans and first responders, and also providing PTSD therapy. A great cause I was happy to be part of. And while I drove up from Ann Arbor, Rebecca came all the way from Texas to participate.

Well, from mile 80 all the way to the finish she was on my mind. Because I was the lead runner and she was in second, and at every aid station progress check, it seemed like she was creeping ever closer. I did win by a good margin and wanted to meet her, but was too wiped out to stick around. But I found her race record online, and man, was it impressive.

Five weeks later, Rebecca ran the Last Annual Vol State 500K, a ten-day race across the state of Tennessee. After the VM 150 I was just trying to walk normally again, but for her it was just a warmup, I guess. She did it unsupported, sleeping on park benches and church lawns. Just goes to show, I told myself (again) – no matter how crazy you are, there’s always someone crazier.

Fast forward to the 2019 Veterans Memorial race. I’m there to help out and run the first 12-mile leg for fun. She’s also back, and I meet this remarkable lady for the first time. After chatting about her Last Annual Vol State race, I implored her to talk me out of doing it. “Nope, can’t do that,” she said. Damn. So it’s still on my list of races to do. Someday.

2019 VM150 start. I’m on the left in the red shirt, looking at Rebecca. Kurt, the RD, is on her left in the blue shirt and jeans.

Just recently she appeared on my radar again. I’m researching 200-mile races to celebrate being 60 next year (crazy, yes) and found an online recap of the Buckeye Ultra 200. It features two very tired guys finding the strength to push each other to the end. They finish nearly together – second and third. And the winner? Yep. Rebecca Gartrell.

This month she set out on a planned 870-mile run across the state of Texas (see above, “always someone crazier”). By herself, with one friend as crew. For fun. No money, no prize, no glory. Just to do it. They set up a website to track their progress. I cheered them on.

Well, on Monday, 265 miles into her odyssey, Rebecca was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver early in the morning. I heard the news today from a friend who had also been following her progress. It still hasn’t sunk in. Part of me wants to believe she’s still out there doing her thing.

This is so damn unfair. Things like this shouldn’t happen to people so full of life. And I can’t imagine what her family and friends are going through.

I have no words of wisdom, folks. I can only pass along what her friend and crew person said in the post announcing her death:

Life is short and very precious – hug your loved ones a little tighter and longer and live for the day. She would have wanted you to.

Rest well, Rebecca. It was great to know you.

Turnaround

Yesterday I went out to Chelsea for my assigned tempo run. Being winter in Michigan, it was cold, and I ran the first half uphill into a stiff headwind. It had the makings of a real suck. But the sky was blue and the sun was shining after weeks of miserable gray, and when I turned around and headed back, things felt so much better. All in all, a pretty good run.

And a pretty good analogy, in my mind anyway, of recent happenings in this country.

Now I’m not going to say that the entirety of the last four years was one big suck for me. Quite the contrary. My wife survived cancer, one daughter got married, and our other one got engaged. And I had a number of memorable adventures which I’ve written about previously here.

But on Inauguration Day I felt very much like that tempo run turnaround point. The wind had shifted and the breathing got easier. It had gotten so bad I stopped listening to the news, so I wouldn’t have to hear about the latest crazy-ass thing our then occupant of the Oval Office said or did. Believe what you like about our new commander in chief, but he has a brain and a heart, and cares about more than himself alone. I feel so much better about our country. And, apparently, so does most of the rest of the world.

I hope this gives us all a chance to pause and reflect on where we need to go as a nation, and how we should behave toward each other. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, let’s talk, and I will listen and ask questions. We don’t have to agree, or even like each other, but we need to understand each other so we can all learn and make ourselves and America better.

Burning Man. The ultimate “get along” experience. Everyone should go once.

I run in Michigan winters because it makes me stronger, and helps me achieve my goals. Maybe we had to go through a period of adversity to remind us that democracy cannot be taken for granted, and getting along with each other requires active engagement. I have to hope we emerge stronger as Americans because of it. That remains to be seen, of course.

But for the moment, I’m happy to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the sunshine.

New Year, and Lots More News

As the old advice goes, always have something to look forward to. Or maybe I just made that up. Either way, I try to follow it. Which means doing new stuff or reaching new milestones.

So what’s new with RBT as the old year comes thankfully to an end? Many things. Here’s the latest and greatest from your (somewhat) humble ultrarunner!

New Mileage PR

Of all the years I’ve run, most of which have included several ultras, who would’ve believed I’d set a new personal record for miles run this year, with curtailed group runs and only one ultra? And yet it happened. This month I passed 1,200 miles for the year, averaging 100 miles per month and blowing away my old record.

This was accomplished in part by a 34-day run streak in May, as part of an events company challenge, but most was just getting my butt out the door. Speaking of, if you’re a runner needing some motivation, or know a runner, I have just the book for you, written by RF Events owner Randy Step. Go get it on Amazon.

New Running Coach

With races hopefully starting up again next year, and goals yet to be met, I knew I needed to restore some discipline to my running training. Which meant a professional coach. I aimed high and emailed one of the best-known trail running coaches out there. His reply went something like this:

Hi Jeff! Thank you so much for reaching out, you are amazing. We appreciate you so much! We are full right now, so sorry…

However, he went on to recommend a coach he really liked, who did have a spot for me. And so my latest regime of torture has officially begun under coach Ryan Miller, a two-time U.S. Olympic qualifier. His Instagram page is full of stuff like the below. Yeah, we’re like-minded all right.

New Watch

So my faithful Garmin 310XT watch, which has served me from roughly the Stone Age, has begun to show signs of battery failure. Problem, because I bought this watch precisely for its long battery life, allowing me to run 50-milers and more without recharging. So, naturally, I went out and bought the best thing I could find out there:

Meet the new watch…the same as the old watch…

That’s right! The newer watches still can’t match the simplicity, ease of use, and battery life of these ancient babies. So far, so good. I’ll take both to my next ultra.

And speaking of. . .

2021: New Races

The pandemic may be far from over, but signs of life are creeping back into the world of trail running. And two upcoming events are confirmed live!

The first is the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K, which I’ve run every year since 2014. Yes, it is actually running in snowshoes, and yes, it’s as lung-busting as it sounds. It’s also a blast. You can read my adventures here in previous blog posts on the subject. Just type “Bigfoot” into my site’s Search box. Or see this one from the 2016 race.

The second is the Grandmaster Ultra, taking place the following week in the Arizona desert. I ran the 50 miler in 2020, and you can read my report here. Been there, done that, but loved the venue, so in 2021 I’ll be doing the 100K.

I’ll provide more details, like social distancing precautions, in upcoming posts. In the meantime, rest assured I will looking out for myself, and others, very carefully.

And finally,

New Site!

I began this site as Fitness At 50 back in 2011, so this means my ten-year anniversary is coming up. Time to join the 2020s in terms of site layout and refresh the content. Maybe even a new blog name! Changes will be coming soon. Don’t worry, I’ll provide plenty of warning. Or not.

Thanks for reading, and have a great New Year!

What’s Up? Glad You Asked! Two Big Announcements

Wow, things are going hot and heavy in my world in December. Along with celebrating birthday number 59, I have a big accomplishment and a timely opportunity to announce to my readers and friends.

Without further ado, here goes!

Announcement #1: I Done Wrote a Novel!

This year with my zero waste business coming to a screeching halt, I decided to pick up a novel I had started some years ago and put aside when life got busy, as it does. I’m pleased to announce that I have completed the first draft!

The novel is currently titled Keeping The Faith. Its main character is Marcus, 22, who is planning to return to college following the death of his father. Returning home from the memorial service, he discovers he has a third grandfather, who would like very much to meet him. Adventure ensues.

The book is “new adult” fiction, meaning it’s targeted toward readers 18-30 years of age. Its main themes are coming of age and struggling with faith. Its tone is meant to be positive and forward-looking – this is not an angst-ridden sufferfest. It contains profanity, drug use (pot), and sexual situations (oh, yeah), so it’s not for younger readers except with parental permission.

As I begin a comprehensive rewrite, I’m looking for a few good people to read the first few chapters and let me know if it’s something they would continue reading. I’m also interested in thoughts on the authenticity of the voices of the characters.

In addition, I need fact-checkers and opinions based on personal experience for the following:

  • Someone who’s been part of a Civil War reenactment (preferably more than one)
  • Someone who’s rowed crew in college. Someone familiar with the NIRC would be best, but not required.
  • A few students who are attending, or who recently attended, a small college

If you are so inclined to help me out here, you can email me at jeff (at) runbikethrow (dot) net.

Announcement #2: Get a Free New Actually Published Book!

My race director friend Randy Step, owner of RF Events, has a new book out just in time for New Year’s. It’s called Get Your Butt Out the Door and is a set of 365 motivational quotes to help you get out and do what’s gotta be done. It’s a “runner’s companion” type of book, so it’s mainly meant for you, the runner, or a runner in your life.

As with so many small businesses, it’s been a rough year for RF Events, and every little bit helps. So I’m supporting them by offering to gift up to five people with a copy of this book. It will come directly from Amazon, and will arrive before Xmas if you act soon.

Would you like a copy, or do you know someone you think would benefit? To take advantage, you can PM me or send an email to jeff (at) runbikethrow (dot) net, with the address you’d like it shipped to.

That’s all for now. But it’s not all that’s going on in my life. More to follow. Stay tuned!