Tag Archives: veterans

My Ultrarunning Secret, and Other Pithy Wisdom from the VM150

I slouched in a comfy chair at this year’s Veterans Memorial 150, sipping a Coke and chatting with some Victory Gym staff. One of them heard I’d run the race last year. “150 miles,” he said. “What’s your secret?”

I thought for a moment. These were highly trained veterans who’d seen active service and more hardship than I’d ever know. And they were looking at me, wanting to know how I could run crazy long distances.

What did I tell them? Well, it’s a secret no more. Read on to find out!

This year’s VM150 was held over Memorial Day weekend as always. I have other training priorities this year, but I wanted to be involved somehow. It’s a fundraiser for Victory Gym, a nonprofit gym free for veterans and first responders, and offering support services for those dealing with PTSD. Last year the race raised over $18,000 for the gym.

I decided to run the first leg from Ludington to Scottville, help out at that aid station, and then be available as a pacer Sunday night. I would also collect the event’s waste for recycling and composting through my company, Happy Planet Running.

I showed up Saturday morning in a not-so-subtle red tech shirt, white shorts, and blue shoes. Kurt, the race director, introduced me as last year’s top male finisher, and Rebecca, the top female finisher, who was running the race again.

At the start. I’m just right of center. Rebecca is on my left (I’m looking in her direction), and to her left is Kurt, the race director.

The good news is that we had a record number of 150-mile finishes (seven) and 100-mile finishes (nine). No doubt the cool weather played a big part, with the high temps (low 80s) basically equal to the LOW temps for 2018’s race (with highs of 95+ during the days). Ah, Michigan weather!

Here are some vignettes from my time spent at the race that weekend. First, from that first leg to Scottville:

  • Chatting with Rebecca, whom I hadn’t actually met until now. Six weeks after the 2018 VM150, she’d run the Last Annual Vol State 500K, a 314-mile trek across Tennessee west to east. It took her six days. “Did you have a crew?” I asked. “Nope, I was ‘screwed’,” she said, using that race’s term for an unsupported runner. Where did she eat? Local towns. Where did she sleep? Park benches and churches. Wow. I asked her to talk me out of trying that race, but she refused.
  • Around mile seven, someone’s watch beeped. “Oh, I got all my steps in today,” he said.

At the Scottville aid station, my “helping out” turned out to be sitting around and clanging a cowbell for incoming runners. Tough job, but someone’s gotta…

  • Catching up with Ruth, who’d been unable to finish last year due to health issues. “Rebecca refused to talk me out of running Vol State,” I told her. “Oh, I’m doing Vol State this year,” she said. WTF? Yes, she’d recovered from her health issues. She planned to take the entire ten days allotted. “I figure I can do 50K per day,” she said. Eating and sleeping? See Rebecca’s plan.
  • Micheal Troutt, whom I’d met last year at Victory Gym, was there. He’s now very involved in the Warrior Ethos Foundation, a charity helping disabled veterans with things like house repairs, adjustments for wheelchair access, or finding transportation. This guy is always finding new ways to help people out. America needs a few million more like him.
  • Some Victory Gym staff members were there helping out. One of them heard I’d completed the race last year. “150 miles?” he said with some awe in his voice. “What’s your secret?” They all looked at me. What could I say? What’s a few miles in a safe environment compared with military service in a war zone? And yet ultrarunning is not exactly a typical or easy activity. Finally I had an answer. “Too stupid to quit.”

After the aid station closed, the Victory Gym president drove me back to Ludington. He told me how difficult it can be for veterans to adjust to civilian life, especially those with physical problems. The VA is short on resources, and vets in general don’t like talking about their problems. Over ten buddies of his had committed suicide. “But if they call, we can help them,” he said. “We just need to get them past that initial urge. So we do our best to let veterans know we’re here for them.”

I called Sunday afternoon about pacing, but the remaining runners were all set. So I picked up the collected aid station trash bags and drove to the finish line. I arrived just before midnight. Five solo runners and one relay team were still on the course. Gradually they trickled in, receiving our cheers and their belt buckles from Kurt.

  • Some of the race staff were napping on the picnic tables, wrapped in blankets. Ruth got up and stretched. “How can you possibly be comfortable,” I began, then cut myself off. “Oh yes, Vol State. Never mind.”
  • I chatted with a couple who were crewing. “Who’s your runner?” I asked. “Dean,” they replied. THE Dean? Who’d caught me at mile 35 last year, then gone to the ER with heatstroke? Yep, it was him – and this year he was going to finish! “He used the wet towel this time like you did,” they told me.
  • And then Dean came in! I approached, but he immediately lay down and began stretching while talking to his crew. Finally he sat up and said something about the top finisher. Kurt told him the name. “That guy’s in his fifties?” Kurt shook his head. “I’m talking about that Jackson guy,” Dean mumbled. Everyone laughed. “He’s right behind you!” someone said. He turned, and I shook his hand and congratulated him. “You were my motivation for finishing this year,” he said. Awww.

Dean, second from right, with crew and friends at the finish line.

The last runner finished at 3:30 a.m., and by 4:00 I took my trash and went home. A memorable weekend, even just helping out. Can’t wait for next year!

P.S. If you’d like to see my official sustainability report, with composting and recycling numbers, you can read it on the Happy Planet Running website here.

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Veterans Memorial: A Long Run for a Good Cause (and would you help?)

IT ALL HAPPENS THIS WEEKEND.

My big race for 2018, the Veterans Memorial, is just a few days away. Starting Saturday in Ludington, it ends Monday in Bay City, a 150-mile route from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. My fellow uber-nuts ultrarunners and I have 52 hours to complete it.

This is my first event of more than 100 miles. I have no idea how the final 50 will go, but you can bet I’m going to give it my best. I’ll have a great crew and pacers to support me, and I’ve trained for it all winter and spring, which included two 50-milers and a “trail marathon and a half” weekend. I’m as ready as I know how to be!

If you’d like to follow my progress, I’ve been told that runner updates will be posted on the Veterans Memorial 150 – VM150 Facebook page. Or, if I feel up to it, I will (oh, God) tweet updates. See handle @RunBikeThrow.

But this post isn’t just about me and my crazy running goals. I want to tell you about the fantastic nonprofit the race is fundraising for, and hopefully persuade you to help them out.

In addition to a real test of physical and mental endurance, the VM150 is raising money for Victory Gym, a veteran-owned nonprofit geared to serving military personnel and first responders. Veteran Mike Emory founded Victory Gym to provide a healthy outlet for those suffering the effects of PTSD, after he discovered how exercise helped him. Before I ran the race I wanted to see the place for myself, so today I went there.

I walked in and explained I was running this weekend, and was quickly introduced to Mike Troutt, their Chief Operations Officer. He will be part of the aid station support team for the race. “Just look for the RV or a big black Harley,” he told me.

Mike’s shirt says, “When life knocks you down, calmly get up, smile, and say, ‘You hit like a bitch.'” I’d say that motto fits him well.

Mike is a 17-year Army veteran, who also spent several years as a smoke jumper, and as part of the disaster response NGO Team Rubicon. Now retired, he spends 80 to 100 hours per week working at Victory Gym. His dedication to helping others, and his passion for the gym and its mission, was evident from the moment I met him.

Victory Gym offers a lot of benefits to veterans and first responders; free membership, a place to hang out with fellow vets, and regular support group meetings for those dealing with the effects of PTSD. Mike admitted to struggling with PTSD himself, and choked up a bit when describing how the gym has helped him and others.

The lounge provides a place for vets to hang out and share stories. On the back wall is a memorial to deceased veterans.

The gym is open every day starting at 7 a.m. While its focus is on veterans and first responders, membership is open to anyone, and Mike said about 40 percent of their members are civilians, who pay $15.00 per month. They also let local youth exercise there in exchange for chores, such as mowing the grass.

But the gym itself is just part of what they do. Part of their building is going to be a wood shop for people who like to work with their hands but aren’t big fans of working out. And they hold regular PTSD support group meetings.

With so little revenue from membership fees, Victory Gym relies heavily on donations of money and equipment. If you’re sufficiently moved by this post to help out, please go to the race website, www.vm150.com, and select the “Gear & Donate” link. You can buy shirts, donate directly, or “buy miles” for a runner. My name (Jeff Jackson) is on the lower pulldown list. All proceeds will go directly to the gym.

Well, I guess all that’s left to say is to wish me luck. But I’m looking forward to this weekend. Should be quite the adventure! If I survive it, I promise you’ll hear all about it in this space.