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Jason Romero — January, 2018
Jason Romero completed a transcontinental run across the USA in 2016 in 59.5 days, finishing the 3,063 miles from Los Angeles City Hall to New York City Hall in the seventh fastest time by any athlete. He is the first and only legally blind person to complete the crossing. Jason was first diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age thirteen and his eyesight has deteriorated over the past 35 years to its current state of non-correctable vision that ranges from 20-200 to 20-400. His peripheral vision has narrowed to less than 20 percent of a full field of vision and he has night blindness. Decreased sightedness hasn’t stopped Jason from endurance athletics as his completed races include nine 100-mile races, three Ironman triathlons, the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim double crossing, Badwater 135-miler, Puerto Rico 185-mile crossing, a 72 hour endurance run and the Spartathlon 153-miler in Greece. Jason is the 2014 U.S. Blind Marathon Champion and a member of the U.S. Paralympic team. His autobiography is entitled ‘Running Into the Dark’ and his website is Personal Best marathon: 2:50:57; Established and holds 13 World Records in the Blind and Visually impaired division: 50k (trail) – 4:01:10; 50 miles (road) – 7:23:00; 100k (road) – 10:10:01; 100k (trail) – 11:53:59; 100 miles (road) – 18:49:00; 100 miles (trail) – 22:53:30; 24 hours – 117 miles; 48 hours – 153 miles; 72 hours – 204.57 miles; 6 days – 334.45 miles; 10 days – 538.05 miles; 1,000 miles – 18 days, 10 hours, 26 minutes; USA Transcontinental Run – 59.5 days. Jason graduated from The University of San Diego, earned his law degree from the University of Colorado and currently works as a motivational speaker. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his children, Sierra, Sage and Sophia, along with ‘Doug the Pug’ and his cat, ‘Queen.’
GCR: First, my props to you on running over 3,000 miles across the USA in just under sixty days, the seventh fastest transcontinental foot crossing of America, especially with your vision constraints which we will discuss shortly. When you look back now that it has been nearly two years, what adjectives and thoughts come to mind that summarize your 60-day journey?
JR One adjective that comes to my mind for my mom, who crewed me across the country and is the one person who can relate to what happened, and for me is an adjective that we constantly use and that is ‘unbelievable.’ Both of us are constantly saying that if we weren’t out there and experiencing what actually happened that we couldn’t believe what had happened. One other word to describe the run is the word ‘hope.’ It has given me hope in a lot of different areas of my life.
GCR: Even for trained distance runners such as me, and I was a good collegian and sub-elite marathon runner, when I meet someone who has completed a fifty-mile race, I have genuine admiration for the effort and athletic feat of that one day. This morning I was running with a friend of mine who won his age group at the Kona Hawaii Ironman three times and he couldn’t believe what you did. What does it say that you were able to test yourself mentally, physically and emotionally in such an extreme way for sixty days?
JR I’m not even sure if it was so much a test. It was really a run to survive. How the run came to be is that I was in a very dark place in my life. I needed to put a challenge in front of me and to accept the challenge. I had to take on this huge task because, if I didn’t take on this huge task, I would have run with depression and I’m not sure that I would be talking to you right now. It wasn’t on the bucket list. There were many times when I was out there that I wanted to quit, but the difference was that I wouldn’t just be quitting on the transcontinental run, but I would be quitting on my life. I knew that with where I came from I didn’t have a choice but to do it.
GCR: Often when we set goals in life or when we set undertakings, as you did, and then achieve it we find that our accomplishment isn’t the end, but just the beginning of another chapter in our life as we inspire others. How have you found this to be true since your running journey’s end and your next journey started?
JR That is a very insightful point. I always say that the decision to run across America was a Calling in my life, but that after I completed it I realized it wasn’t the end of the Calling, but part of the Calling. I got across and was the only blind person to do so which has allowed me to speak to groups and to share the story. I’ve been to many places and have spoken to tens of thousands of people. I used to be an attorney and businessman and now I’m a motivational speaker which I could have never imagined. I get the chance to be in front of thousands of young people and I do speak to school groups pro bono as my give back. They get to hear a story of hope and of going through difficult times in life. I think that hearing my story and my being vulnerable in sharing that story lets people know it’s okay to hurt, to be scared and that we can still accomplish things and make a comeback. That’s been the real consequence of this that I am very grateful for and that I never could have imagined.
GCR: Running across the USA is challenging for anyone as only a few hundred people have done so and not many as fast as you did which was the seventh fastest in history, but you also have the additional challenge of being legally blind. I have poor vision as my contact lens prescriptions are negative 8.50, which is about 20-700, but is totally correctable with the lenses to 20-20. Since you aren’t totally blind, could you describe what your vision is in terms like 20-200, what percentage of the field of vision with 100 percent being from complete peripheral vision right to the left that your Retinitis Pigmentosa has left you with and any other notes so that we can get a sense of what you faced while running America’s roads?
JR My eye condition of Retinitis Pigmentosa was diagnosed at age fourteen and I just turned 48 years old this week. When I was diagnosed at fourteen, they told me that I would have no light perception by age thirty. I’ve outlived that prognosis by almost two decades now. What happens with Retinitis Pigmentosa is that you start losing your peripheral vision and getting blind spots. Eventually it looks like you are looking through a tunnel. To get an understanding right now it is like I tape two toilet tissue rolls together and look through them. That is what I see. So when I look at a person’s face, I see their nose and their eyes. I don’t see their mouth or ears and I have to scan all over the place to take in the full image. Inside that tunnel my eyesight used to be 20-80. Now it’s 20-200 to 20-400, depending on the day and how rested I am or how fatigued I am. So what I see at twenty feet away from a street sign, a 20-20 sighted person could walk and entire football field away and see the exact same size image and the same amount of detail that I see. I have to get real close to see well. The other thing that happens is night blindness as my rods and cones are deteriorating. If an average person has a thousand rods and cones in a centimeter of their eye, I have maybe a hundred. My eyes just do not pick up as much light, so I liken that to my walking around like I’m wearing a dark pair of sunglasses, even in the day time. At night time I will see a light up in the sky, but I don’t know if it is the moon or a street light. I can tell there is a light, but can’t tell what it illuminates. At night I am more like a fully blind person.
GCR: We have touched a bit on what you have described as your ‘Calling,’ and many times in your book, ‘Running Into the Dark,’ you mentioned that your run across the USA was a ‘Calling.’ I have spoken with others who have a Calling in life and I can also relate to you as I have my own Calling with these nearly 120 interviews. My wife also has a ‘Calling’ to battle human trafficking. It seems that at some age in their forties or fifties many people fell a ‘Calling’ in their life. Will you explain how this Calling came into being and how it changed your vision of this undertaking?
JR My ‘Calling’ really originates with a deep religious faith. I didn’t always have a deep faith. I was raised in a household where we regularly went to church and I rebelled for a while. I had a personal experience seven or eight years ago. If I hadn’t experienced it and someone else had told me they had, I would have thought they were totally nuts. What ended up happening was I volunteering at a homeless shelter called ‘Christ Body Ministries.’ I had been volunteering for six or seven years and also was on their Board of Directors for four or five of those years. Whenever I was going through a down spell in my life – going through a divorce or a job transition or where I slipped into a deep depression when I stopped working and driving because of how my eyes had deteriorated about four years ago – I would end up at this homeless shelter. By volunteering and helping the homeless, for some reason helping these people who had no homes and some were sleeping in dumpsters or were out on the street, it always reminded me that things in my life could be worse and that I really needed to be grateful for what I have. I was volunteering one particular Thursday and I was working the clipboard for showers and laundry, making sure that people got into the showers, got out on time and got their supplies. I was there with my clipboard and all of a sudden it was like all of the sound washed away and I had this thought that ‘I’m going to run across America.’ Then the wave passed and my regular thoughts and the sounds from the environment came back. It was the weirdest, strangest thing. I knew I didn’t dream that and that it had just happened. I thought that if I didn’t hold myself accountable and tell somebody and acted like it had never happened because it was too weird that it would be gone. So I texted my mom immediately that I was going to run across America. Within five seconds she texted back and said, ‘I’m in.’ That began an eighteen month preparation process to eventually start my run across America.
GCR: Others who have aimed for a fast crossing of the USA are typically strong endurance athletes who are well-funded and travelling with a crew and RV. How improbable was it for someone who was a good runner, but not elite, and his seventy year old mom as his crew first, to even consider this trek and, second, to complete it?
JR You got to the heart of this with that question because that is the part where my mom and I sit back and say it was absolutely unbelievable. People have crossed America pushing a baby stroller or well-funded with resources and RVs and doctors and a huge crew. They are very different undertakings. But, how my mom and I did it, is we were on a shoestring budget. I was receiving Social Security disability income. We were living below the federal poverty level and my kids were on Medicaid. I had a mortgage on my house and had no income coming in. I thought I’d lose the house and go bankrupt. I planned to finance the run on whatever credit cards I had and figure out how to pay them off afterward. All of it ended up coming together unbelievably. The expenditures for gas, food and motels ended up totaling twenty-three thousand dollars. People donated to the effort and the final total of donations was twenty-three thousand dollars. So it covered the expenses to the dime.
GCR: It is amazing how that came out so close. Another wonderful factor was you having support of others who came out to run part of your trip with you or came out to see you and especially since many didn’t really know you. Could you mention a few of those who inspired you to keep going and who really helped you the most?
JR One lady and her father drove eight hours to see me - Christy Danaher and her father, Mr. Danaher. They ran with me one full day, paid for my mom and my lodging, cooked us dinner and then turned around and drove ten hours back home. That type of giving and kindness made me realize, ‘this matters to people beyond me.’ To me it was a survival run to try to stay alive and manage depression, but to other people it really meant something. That type of giving meant the world to me. When I was running down the road, random people would just drive up on the side of me and say, ‘Hey, jump in and we’ll give you a ride. Where did your car break down?’ And I would tell them, ‘I’m running.’ Then they would ask, ‘Where are you running to?’ When I was in Kansas I said, ‘I’m running to the Atlantic Ocean.’ I couldn’t see their faces, but I could imagine their jaws dropping as there was dead silence as they processed what I had said. Sometime they would drive off and come back with food. One time a guy emptied his wallet and gave me everything in it, which was a hundred bucks. He drove off almost in tears. I could hear it and he said, ‘Don’t stop.’ The kindness of people in America I experienced 99.999 percent of the time. The actions of people were overwhelming kindness. There were a few knuckle heads out there, but the overwhelming kindness in America was just wonderful.
GCR: During races of any distance I advise those I coach to do what I do and split the race into segments. This works well in 5ks which include three one-mile segments and in marathons which are a 10-miler, another 10-miler and a 10k. How did this work running across the country when you had to complete three segments that were each one thousand miles. In ‘Running Into the Dark’ you called the first thousand miles ‘Pain,’ the second thousand miles ‘Settling In’ and the third thousand miles ‘Hanging On’ How did your thought process change during each of your three segments that were so lengthy and lasted about twenty days each?
JR The first thousand miles were definitely called ‘Pain.’ The first two weeks were about physical pain and then it switched over into mental pain. The first two weeks have been called the break-in period by others who have done transcontinental crossings. People like Marshall Ulrich and Perry Newburn who are elite always describe the first two week period as when your body revolts against you. Basically, any type of weakness in your muscular-skeletal system is exposed and you are going to have to deal with it or end up quitting. The physical pain threshold increases and increases and increases and there comes a point after about two weeks where it doesn’t increase anymore. It’s analogous to when you are skiing or snowboarding and you point your skis straight downhill that there is a finite amount of acceleration that you will achieve. Once you realize that finite amount of speed, you realize that you aren’t going to go any faster. With the pain it increased and increased and seemed that it would go on forever, but it plateaus and then you realize, ‘Okay, I can deal with this pain.’ You understand how to deal with it on a daily basis and to not let it shut you down so you can continue going through that. Once that physical pain plateaued, then I knew I could survive at that threshold. It was a ‘holy cow’ moment as I knew I overcame it. Everything still hurt, but I could put in fifty miles each day. It was an unbelievable discovery. But then what happened is it changed from a physical feat to a mental feat for the rest of the run. That really became the biggest issue. So after about three weeks and a thousand miles, I call the second thousand miles ‘Settling In.’ The reason was because it was a mental game at that point that I started to deal with on a daily basis. I was struggling with that but I found a way to be grateful for being out there. Other than being apart from my kids, I was grateful for the time I had and found ways to cope by using that strategy and to stay in the game mentally. After about twenty days of using that strategy I got to the last thousand miles and all of my coping strategies stopped being effective. That’s why those last thousand miles really became ‘Hanging On.’ I had to use every strategy and everything I had to not quit. Physically and mentally I was done. But I was more than half way there and it was very tortuous that last thousand miles.
GCR: You spoke a bit about consistency and that is the number one factor I speak to people about when they want to improve in anything, whether it is athletics, in school, learning to play a musical instrument and the list goes on and on. How important were consistency, structure and discipline as you and your mom had to balance miles run per day, pacing, nutrition, sleep and attention to your physical state?
JR Consistency is the critical equalizer. We had a daily routine for mileage. I had a daily goal of running fifty miles and, no matter what we did; we had to average fifty miles. It was a struggle or fight every day to achieve that mileage and we wouldn’t stop until we achieved that. Our day started at 5:00 a.m. I would ice my feet in an ice bucket and my mom would start feeding me. I ate ten thousand calories a day, so I was constantly eating every fifteen minutes. We would reload the van and get to our start point at 6:00 a.m. I would start running. My mom would drive up a mile, cross the highway while avoiding trucks, stand on the side of the road, feed me, give me food and drink and then drive up the road another mile. We did that fifty or more miles a day. We would finish at six to eight o’clock at night. She would drive me to the closest hotel which was sometimes five minutes away and sometimes sixty minutes away. I would get out and do an ice bath, heat and Epsom salts bath, and do first aid. She would drive to the nearest town, empty out our coolers, replenish ice, replenish food, gas the vehicle, do laundry and get us food for the night. She would come back; we would eat and be asleep at nine thirty at night. That was our routine consistently day in and day out.
GCR: Were there any thoughts to possibly change up your routine on days when the weather was really bad or due to other factors?
JR We couldn’t vary our routine. Otherwise, it would risk us even continuing on. The weather did cause a struggle with consistency in that we had days with clear blue skies that were great, while other days it had started to rain and it was pounding on the window. Both of us didn’t want to go out there. I was going to get blisters, it was going to be miserable and there was no visibility. I could totally get killed by a semi that may not see me on the side of the road. But we forced ourselves to get out there. We took no days off. Every day except for two days we achieved fifty miles or more. One day we were in the middle of the desert and flatted out. We only got in sixteen miles that day. It took us thirty days to make up that lost mileage. Another day it was raining cats and dogs so I had to walk for the first seven hours. Our deal was I would never run past sunset because it was too dangerous. In that dark environment I would have been fatigued and I got to 48 miles that day when the sunset happened. Other than those two days, it was fifty miles or more and that consistency allowed us to go on. Our thought was that if we gave up on one of those days and only did a thirty mile day or quit early, we would be encountering difficulty and adversity on future days and it would be that much easier to quit in the future if we quit on one day. So we just refused to quit.
GCR: You mentioned earlier that 99.99 percent of the people you encountered were very nice which restored your faith in America, but road running has inherent dangers and one of the biggest are inattentive drivers and, even worse, malicious drivers. How tough was it staying focused through so many hours of running each day to avoid mishaps, especially with your limited vision and all those big trucks that you call ‘metal boxes of death?’
JR There were probably twenty or thirty times that I could have, and probably should have, died out on those roads. I came within inches of semis going seventy-five miles per hour in the opposite direction. There were ten times where cars drove at me in the break down lane and ran me off of the road before swerving and missing me at the last second. There was one time when a wide load came at me and I didn’t realize it. I had to drop down otherwise this load would have hit me in the mid-chest. There was something else watching over me. I always think there had to be because I don’t think I have the sense of mind to be able to pull through and to be lucky enough to survive these crazy things that happened on my run. It was always a constant challenge. When I run races the courses are marked and there are race officials out there. And races are usually on city streets. When you run on a highway the semis and trucks aren’t used to having people running on these roads. The truckers are going hundreds of miles on their trips to get from point A to point B. They aren’t looking out for you and they don’t realize how close to death you are when you are a foot or two feet from a semi.
GCR: Could you explain in more detail the dangers of running so close to these passing semis?
JR What happened a few times is that a semi has a wind wall that it pushes about ten feet ahead of them. It’s like an invisible wall and, if you are too close to the truck, this invisible wind wall blasts you. After the semi passes you there is a vacuum behind the semi where you get sucked into the road behind the semi. A big issue I faced is that semis tailgate each other. After the first semi passed I would have to brace myself so I wouldn’t get blown all over the place. Then I would have to fight getting sucked into the road because, if there was a second semi, I was dead. It was a constant game and it wasn’t even visually-based. I could hear the semi, I could feel it, I was perceptive and I’m not sure if eyesight would have made a difference. I have talked to fully sighted people who have run across America and they tell me they encountered the same types of things to avoid death. So, I’m not sure that those major things were worsened a significant amount by my poor eyesight because it’s part of the game of running across America on highways.
GCR: Stepping out of one’s normal routine for two months presents additional hurdles – how did being in contact with your three children only via phone make things tougher, but then also change things as they were in tune with and admiring what you were doing?
JR There were highs and lows of how it affected my relationship with my kids. The highs were that my kids didn’t really understand the undertaking until I was out there and they would tell their teacher or friends what I was doing and jaws would drop. They had never heard of a person actually crossing America on foot. Less than three hundred people have done it in history. They became very proud and grateful for what I was doing and the challenge I was undertaking. But, after about thirty days of not seeing each other it was really tough. There were a lot of tears. There were many things happening in their lives where they would call me and I had to stop running. I would sit on the side of the road, try to be a long-distance dad and talk them through whatever the crisis was that they were dealing with. Then I’d get off the phone and feel like the worst parent ever and the worst father ever and that I was doing this thing that was totally selfish and that I wasn’t there to hold my kids or to give them a hug. I was always afraid that I was not doing what I was put on this earth to do which is to love these children. There were times out there when I was almost hit by a car or could have died because of an interaction. I had to look deep within myself and think, ‘Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? There’s a possibility I may never see my kids again. Is that really supposed to be the final outcome of this run?’ It made me look inward and search my soul deeply. But I’m thankful I did make it back. What ended up happening is this undertaking and my openness with my kids about the deep, dark parts and the high parts has given them an inspiration to know within their own lives that they can achieve absolutely anything because I’m just a normal guy like anybody else that they see on the street. They saw that I went through a very tough time and I made a comeback and I was able to do something that was seemingly undoable.
GCR: Curveballs in life occur more than we might wish. How did you push through your girlfriend informing you she was breaking up with you when you still had three quarters of your run remaining and now you had additional emotional adversity in the midst of such a tough undertaking?
JR That whole situation has really made me grow as an adult. What ended up happening there was that I had a long-term relationship with a lady and loved her deeply. She was one of the five main people in my life that I relied upon. And when this time came where she was feeling so much pain that she couldn’t go on, I didn’t have the ability, or I didn’t choose to have the ability, to sit there and try to work that through and talk that through. I was barely surviving out there and I felt like I didn’t have enough for this lady. As I look back on that it was probably one of the most cowardly things I have done in my life. I know that I loved this woman, but if I had loved her the correct way I would have taken that time and that is extremely difficult when I look back at that situation as to how that part transpired. Regardless of who is right or wrong, if you love somebody you’re going to take the time to work things through. That was my mistake and I own that. As those curveballs come in life, you make a decision with the information you have at that time and you make the best decision you can. Sometimes they turn out well and sometimes they don’t turn out well. But you can’t avoid making a decision. I think that’s a good lesson I learned in my business career and in parenting kids. We always operate in an environment of uncertainty. We get as much information as we can to make the best decision we can and we’re going to live with our results and the consequences. And that situation was no different. Sometimes they turn out with a great comeback and sometimes they crash and burn and then we move on.
GCR: That reminds me of a line from the song, ‘The Voice,’ by the Moody Blues that I happened to be listening to the other day. The line is, ‘with our arms around the future and our back up against the past.’ It reminds us that the past is there behind us and we can’t change it or go back through it while our arms are around the future as we grab the future and are really going for it. Is that the kind of realization that you had?
JR That is a phenomenal articulation of what I was trying to articulate.
GCR: When I spoke with Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Race Director, he mentioned that when he ran across the USA in 1978 from Oregon to Boston and averaged 48 miles per day, that he was breaking down after about one thousand miles before he intuitively figured out that he couldn’t just run on the left side of the road facing traffic and had to alternate sides to balance his legs. As you mentioned in ‘Running Into the Dark,’ how did you happen upon a similar realization at about the same point in your run?
JR What happens when you run on the highways is that the highways are cambered with a high center to help with rain runoff or oil runoff. Most of the time I ran against traffic and the outside of my right shoe would always shave down because the slope or the pitch of the road was always higher. My left shoe always looked brand new while my right shoe was shaved down. Finally I had to trade out shoes earlier after two or three days. Back home I could wear a pair of shoes for a thousand miles. Out there they were only lasting a hundred or a hundred and fifty miles. What I tried to do to lengthen the life of the shoe, if possible, was to run on the other side of the road if there was a shoulder and my mom could block me with the van because I didn’t want to get run down by a vehicle. That’s the strategy I used to try to ameliorate that. The other thing I did as I realized that was happening was that I was getting injured on one side of my body and so I used a lot of lock tape to the point that my whole lower body was taped together. It really helped me with soft tissue injuries. It was phenomenal. I don’t think that was around in the 1970s when Dave crossed, but my guess is that he would have used the same type of strategy.
GCR: Did you seek out any outside help once you realized that the pitch of the road was causing physical imbalances and injury?
JR I actually put a phone call in to this guy who was a physical therapist and who started Boulder Running Company. I asked him for help with my problem of running on pitched roads and it was apparent that people couldn’t even fathom what was happening. His answer was to ask me what the pitch was of the road so that he could put a wedge into my shoe so that my foot would have equilibrium. He was trying to figure out a way to offset the pitch of the road. But when I was running on highways the pitch of the road was always changing so it was impossible to measure. The pitch was going to change moment by moment and day by day. It would have been a waste of time to try to create this additional augmentation. But it was a lesson in adaptability. During the run, whether it was the pitch of the road or trucks passing by or a place where there could be dogs, you are constantly in a state of adapting to a changing environment. That is the mental work of what you are doing. When you are out there for twelve to fifteen hours it’s not like you are not thinking. It really turns into an exercise in survival. How am I going to survive for another fifty miles on America’s highways? That is the exercise that kept my brain moving. I never went into a zombie state because I was out there learning to survive.
GCR: When you are our on the roads for so many hours you may wonder, ‘Should I listen to music or books on tape or the radio or just the sounds of nature?’ How did your needs change from day to day or during segments of the run?
JR That was really the growth side of the run. People may think that I went out on this run and I came back this changed enlightened person. No, I didn’t meet Buddha out there on the road. I did learn a lot but at the beginning what I was trying to do was to fill my mind with something other than what was happening. As the pain was happening or a relationship changed or I was missing my kids, I was trying to avoid dealing with each situation by utilizing noise. So, I would listen to music and I would listen to audio books and then thirty days, halfway through my Run Across America, I got to where I just couldn’t take any more noise. I had met chaos with chaos and it created more chaos. I remember that day, that moment, my mom was in the van and I ran up to her. I used to carry my phone and some headphones in a back pack with me. I ripped the headphones off of my head, took off the backpack and threw it all in the van. My mom said, ‘what’s wrong, Jay? Is the phone out of juice? Do we need to charge it up?’ I said, ‘No, I can’t take the noise.’ There was silence and I took off and I kept running. All of a sudden I could hear, but I couldn’t see these tractors and farm equipment. I could hear birds in the grass and trees. I was able to have peace of mind. I was able to run finally for days on end and to be able to be content. That was a point in time where I did think deeply about my own life, what had gone well in my life, what had gone wrong in my life and things that I had done wrong. I really had to look at myself and accept myself for who I was. I had to forgive myself for things I had done wrong and to commit to do better and to try to do right, which I have done my whole life. I got to a point where I was proud of myself as a man and the things I had done. I committed to doing good moving forward. That all happened as a result of the music and the madness and my realizing that I didn’t have to drown out what was happening right now or try to avoid the current situation. It’s okay to be present and to be in the moment. The last thirty days were a heckuva lot more rewarding than the first thirty days were.
GCR: That was about the time in ‘Running Into the Dark’ that the four themes of Faith and Hope, Patience, Consistency and Forgiveness were developed inside of you. Was that primarily because you had turned off the noise and you let your mind think and philosophize?
JR Yes, you hit the nail on the head. Now as I go out and talk a very popular topic to discuss in the business realm is mental toughness. I use that term with some of my audiences because they understand it. A question I am asked quite often by my audiences is ‘Why didn’t you quit? How were you able to not quit? And those were the four themes that arose. Hope is never ever giving up on your dream. The greatest story of that is of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic exhibition in 1915 when his team got stranded in the Antarctic. For two years he led a group of people across ice, on floating ice, shipwrecked with no food, and he did not lose one person. He kept journals and diaries and he never lost hope. That was an inspiration for me. I heard that story and knew we can’t lose hope. Patience is important because bad things happen all of the time. Bad things happen every day multiple times. But if we are patient, stay calm and don’t get excited, we will get past those and the cycle will start the next day. It always passes you by and things always get better. That’s true in life, it was true in this run and it is true all of the time.
GCR: So after Hope and Patience became an integral part of your being, what are your main takeaways regarding the final two themes of Consistency and Forgiveness?
JR Consistency meant that we consistently strived for fifty miles every day. Some days we were running up mountains or through rain storms or we had flat tires or we ran out of supplies or my mental state was all over the place. It didn’t matter where I was running as I could be in a great state or a horrible state or I could change on an hourly basis or daily basis or weekly basis. Regardless of how these environmental factors worked on my internal state, we consistently put up that mileage every day. It didn’t matter what we were experiencing as we were still able to deliver on consistent results. The final one which is an important part of character is forgiveness. That really enabled us to not give up because we can easily go down a rat hole when we have negative thoughts and we start focusing or projecting and get angry. I was able to look deeply at myself and realize that I’m not a perfect person. I’ve done things that are bad. But I was able to forgive myself for that and to not beat myself up. Then I could forgive other people who had done badly to me. That lightened my load and was so freeing to be able to do that. I had a difficult relationship with my father and I struggled a long, long time with forgiveness and that was the beginning of the path to be able to forgive him and to move on as a man and with my life. Hope, patience, consistency and forgiveness – those are the things that allowed me to overcome any pain I had and any fear I had.
GCR: Why was it and is it still so important to you to overcome pain and fear?
JR Pain and fear to me are the two factors that will paralyze you or stop you or any person in any pursuit. Be it a relationship, love, professional goals or personal goals. As you mentioned, in the last thirty days they really came to the forefront and I learned a lot about life.
GCR: So, after sixty days you finally are on the final day of your Run Across America. What was it like on that final day and in the final miles as you knew this is the day you were going to complete this goal?
JR On that last day at the beginning of the day I was probably at the lowest point of the entire run. It was because I was just depleted. My mom and I were so close, but we were so done. We had nothing left and we had seventy miles to cover that day. It was the longest day of the entire run. As the day started unfolding it just seemed like there was no way that we would ever get there. We ended up having some reinforcements as a couple college roommates and a buddy who lives in New York came out to help. They drove the vehicle for my mom so she didn’t have to. Mile after mile after mile it seemed there was no way I would get there. Finally I ended up hitting the George Washington Bridge where it crosses over from New Jersey into New York and I knew we only had eleven miles to go. Then it became real. ‘I can make it!’ It wasn’t until I had only eleven miles to go that I actually believed I could make it. Then what ended up happening is that it was getting toward evening about five o’clock. As we were going through Manhattan we started taking a bee line down Broadway because it was the most direct path to New York City Hall. I have night blindness, so when I run in the dark I wear a head lamp so that I can see a least a foot in front of me. But I forgot to take the headlamp from the vehicle. I hadn’t run in the dark during the run, but this day I would have to. My mom could not crew me through Manhattan so she drove down to New York City Hall when I had the eleven miles to go. This was happening and I was freaking out because I know I can’t see in the dark. Eleven miles in pitch black. I thought, ‘How can this be happening?’ So I started sprinting. I gave it everything I had. I was going through Manhattan on the sidewalks, through all of these people and doing eight minute miles. As more and more people were on the sidewalks I jumped on the street and started running against traffic. I was running seven minute miles and my buddy who lived in New York was screaming at me, ‘You’re going to get killed by a bus!’ I yelled back, ‘I’ve run with semis and a bus isn’t going to kill me!’ I think at one point in there I was running a sub-seven minute mile.
GCR: How was it as it was getting darker and then finally when you reached New York City Hall and you had made it – mentally, physically and emotionally?
JR I was sprinting toward City Hall because I just couldn’t let it get dark on me. I describe this in the last chapter of the book and it became a larger run. As I set out on that run, I had a deep faith and I was thinking, ‘Maybe God is going to heal me and I’m going to be able to see out of my eyes if I can actually do this and complete this run.’ As I started going toward City Hall I knew the completion was going to happen and I wasn’t going to be able to see and it was like this final showdown with my eye disease. I felt that if I could just make it to City Hall before dark it was going to be okay and I won’t lose my sight someday. But it ended up getting dark on me and I didn’t make it before dark. It was horrible with about a mile to go to City Hall when all of that came crashing down on me. I had to stop running and I had to grab my buddy’s arm. He had to guide me again and it sucked. I was down and thinking, ‘I don’t want this life for me.’ He kept trying to encourage me and keep me going. Finally I kept asking, ‘Where is City Hall? Where is City Hall?’ And then he said, ‘There is City Hall.’ I was asking, ‘Where? In the next block?’ ‘No, we’re here,’ was his response. He could hardly see either because it was so dark. ‘We’re right here at City Hall,’ he said. I started screaming my mom’s name and I could hear her in the distance screaming, ‘Jay,’ and I ran toward her voice. I didn’t know if I was going to hit something, but I just ran toward the sound. And then she was in front of me and we did it. That was an overwhelming moment. It was almost like I was numb because I was so tired and there could be no emotion. But then there was this overwhelming sense of contentment and gratitude. I think the thing I realized there was that regardless of what was going to happen with my sight – I’m going to lose it and I will have no light perception – but vision is different than sight. I share this experience with people that vision is about following your dreams and continuing on because there are things you can’t see or don’t need to see. I know I will always have my vision, regardless of what happens to my sight. It was a wonderful experience and I don’t think I can fully describe it in words.
GCR: After sixty days and three thousand plus miles I know you had tremendous pain and soreness that I can’t relate to as my experience with pain and soreness is limited as to that from racing fast races from the mile to the marathon. How nice was your post-run trip to Cozumel with your kids and how long did it take before the physical aches and pains of your run mostly subsided – was it a month or a couple of months or longer?
JR When we finished the run my mom and I started back to Denver the next day and it took us three days to drive back. We surprised my kids and it was the most wonderful reuniting with my kids ever. We took a ten day vacation to Cozumel, ate ice cream and just hung out. It was awesome. We didn’t even talk about the run. We just spent time with each other, caught up on our lives and how we felt. It was incredible. As to the recovery from the run, I will never be the same runner that I was before that. I sustained long-lasting trauma to my running body. I will probably never be as fast or I will never totally overcome all of the injuries. What I can tell you is that after a year’s worth of time I got back to where I could run anything. I’m still running one hundred mile races and I feel at any time I can drop into a marathon and still run well. But running fast times – I could run a three hour marathon now, but there is no way I could stretch to a two fifty which is where I used to be before the run. For a one hundred mile run, once I get to a hundred miles it seems that all of the injuries I sustained on that run immediately pop up in my body. But let’s be real here as that is after already running a hundred miles.
GCR: We’ve had this great discussion of your Run Across America, so now let’s go back to your childhood and discuss sporting activity your diagnosis with Retinitis Pigmentosa, how you started running and then some of other racing exploits. First, when you were a child in elementary school and junior high, were you an active child, did you participate in a variety of sports and how did you like running?
JR When I was growing up I was always a mediocre athlete who wasn’t built to be exceptional at anything. But I always tried really hard. I played Little League football and I tried baseball though I couldn’t see the ball well and always struck out. In high school I played football and was a right guard and middle linebacker at 145 pounds. I was on the second string team and always got destroyed by the two hundred pound kids. I wrestled and did okay there. I tried to run track. I was never great at any sports. I’d say I was average. But for some reason the running was always consistent. When we had to do long distance running I never hated it as much as other people. But I didn’t understand that I might have a propensity towards it, an affinity to doing it or had the mental straights to do that type of thing. That kind of came out of the blue later on in life.
GCR: After that first marathon, did you become a regular marathon runner?
JR I never ran another marathon for fourteen years. I ran my next marathon in 2007 as a fund-raiser for my son’s school. My son has autism and we had started a school for him in Puerto Rico where I was on a job assignment. That marathon in 2007 was the Las Vegas marathon and, frankly, from then on I never stopped. I went to the Boston Marathon and then to triathlons and the Ironman triathlons and ultra running. I have really enjoyed ultra running the most because you don’t need all of this equipment. You can run wherever you are and in any environment. All you need are some shoes and shorts. That began a love for ultra running. I started in Leadville with a DNF in my first attempt at the Leadville 100. I went back to finish it three times. I ran all over the place. I ran some multi-day races, the Badwater ultramarathon through Death Valley, and Spartathlon, which is a historic race in Greece. It took me three times to be able to finish that.
GCR: What are some of the highlights or defining moments that stand out in your memory of ultramarathons you completed such as the Leadville 100-Miler, the double crossing of the Grand Canyon, Javelina Jundred, the crossing of Puerto Rico, Keys 100 and Badwater 135?
JR The thing I love about ultra marathons is they are going to strip you down and rip you apart and expose the bare essence of who you are. You may feel like you are going to die, but you can always make a comeback. That is the thing I love about these ultras. At least one time in each race I always end up in the pit of despair like I can’t go on. But as long as I don’t quit, I don’t take myself out of races and I keep moving forwards, I always make a comeback. These comebacks are amazing. At Badwater I had this plantar’s wart and I was suffering and didn’t realize how bad it would be to run in that type of heat. The plantar’s wart became inflamed and I wasn’t able to walk or change my gait. My ankle was all messed up and I had no clue how I was going to move forward. It took two hours to go two miles. It was insane! And then out of nowhere I made a comeback. The pain was gone and I started sprinting seven minute miles. I was running seven flat probably 115 miles into the Badwater Marathon. That went on for about five miles. It was a total comeback. Those situations happen and did at Spartathlon when I was almost taken out of the race. I got this second or third or fourth wind and those are what always stand out. There are these wonderful times where you are driving yourself into the ground and you are battling pain and fear. As long as you don’t give in to it and you keep yourself in the race and you keep moving forward eventually that pain will subside and you are going to be able to run again. Without fail, in every one of these races that happened. And that is really my drug to keep doing these races. It’s so encouraging to know that phenomenon happens. It is the great metaphor for life. We always hit these roadblocks and feel we are down and out. But as long as we keep moving forward things get better. We hit our stride again. One minute we can be dying and the next minute we can be flying. As long as we don’t quit that possibility is still out there and those are the best moments ever in ultra running.
GCR: What I understand to be such a parallel in your life is, because of your Retinitis Pigmentosa, whether it was in school or your relationships or your work, you had those times where you had big challenges or you went down into a very low spot and you had to work so hard to get out. It seemed like what you had to do in life because of your deteriorating eyesight is similar to what you have to do in these long ultra running races. Could you talk about the parallels?
JR Absolutely. Every day I am grateful how I have lost my eyesight. I used to think it was a curse. It’s actually a blessing. It’s made me into like this adaptable beast, if you will. What happens if you lose your eyesight like I have is you make an adaptation and you create or invent some way to do things in the way a quote, normal, unquote way. I’d have to get to a school dance so I would figure out or engineer a way to get there. If you’re trying to do work and your eyesight deteriorates to where you can’t read your e-mails you determine if you can do zoom text or something else. You are constantly adapting as your eyesight deteriorates because your prior adaptation worked for a little while and then as your eyes get worse you adapt again. That’s been a skill I’ve developed since I was fourteen years old and now I’m forty-eight. I’m in this constant state of change in adapting to whatever gets thrown my way. And that, frankly, has been my key to success in my professional career as a lawyer, in my career at General Electric running one of their divisions in the Caribbean, running global operations for Western Union and as CEO of a nonprofit. That adaptability has been my X-factor in being able to be put into some of the most difficult situations as possible but to be able to find a way out. That really was a direct consequence of me losing my eyesight the way I have.
GCR: That adaptability seems like it is totally necessary for you to have in the really tough times.
JR There are times, and I talk about them in ‘Running Into the Dark,’ that I curled up into a little ball just like everybody else. I had a pity party and I cried and I was mad and I screamed out to God, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ I’m human just like anybody else. But the real benefit of going through challenge and adversity in life is that you figure out and understand your own resilience. The thing that I think is true with everybody is each person deals with something. My blindness is someone else’s cancer or attention deficit disorder or anorexia or cutting or depression or broken heart. Everybody deals with some type of adversity and, the same things I described, everybody experiences in their own lives. From my perspective, adversity is a friend. In my book I have this great quote and I can’t even believe I wrote it. I re-read it and it says ‘Adversity gives us the chance to understand how incredible we can be on a daily basis.’ And that is something that I really hold true to my heart and I share with my kids all of the time. They tell me on a daily basis about the challenges they faced that day and I always bring up that point that these tough spots will prove just how awesome they are. We get past these times and inevitably they do.
GCR: One major area we haven’t discussed is your training for your Run Across America. Since many who read this will be runners, can we review what you did before your Run Across America as you increased both weekly mileage and long runs and summarize the progression of both so people can understand what you had to do to be as well-prepared as possible?
JR It was an eighteen month training cycle from the time I decided to do the run until I was going to start. During the first twelve months the training cycle was really centered around six races of a hundred miles or longer. So I had build ups. One was the Javelina Jundred, then a self-supported one hundred mile race around a park, then a 183-mile crossing of Puerto Rico, the Keys 100, the Badwater 135 and the 153 miles of Spartathlon. All the races were on the road purposely because I knew I needed to increase my bone density and to learn how to run on roads and concrete. There were consistent build ups to these ultra races, then recovery, build up, recovery, build up, recovery and so on so that my body would get stronger but also have a bit of down time during the first twelve months. For the last six months of the training cycle I did specific training for the Run Across America. I ran every single day because I knew I had to mentally be ready to run every day. When I ran my normal schedule was to run a half marathon every day and then to life weights if it was a weight day. Then one day a week I would run a marathon. That would get me to over a hundred miles running consistently each week. Then the last week of each month starting in December, and then also in January and February, I would have what I called a long week, a super long week. In December I ran a marathon of twenty-six miles every day from Monday through Sunday. At the end of January I ran fifty kilometers every day for a week. At the end of February I alternated fifty miles, fifty kilometers, fifty miles and fifty kilometers every day for a week and it added up to just under three hundred miles for the week. What I have to tell you is that at the end of each big week in December, January and February my body was a wreck. I was limping and hobbling and everything hurt. I had no clue how I was going to be able to run 350 miles a week every week without a break. On those days I was able to come home, eat, rest, have my mom take care of me and sleep in my own bed. I had no idea how my body would be able to do it.
GCR: We always try to peak for shorter races such as 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and marathons. What were your thoughts about how to be in peak form for your transcontinental run?
JR As I talked to some of the people who had attempted this and had done it, they told me I did not want to peak in my training before I started running across America. They said I will want to peak my training during the Run Across America and that I want to peak right at the end of that break-in period and that is what I aimed to do. It actually ended up paying off. I did not do a big taper before I ran across the country. I just kept up my same training of thirteen miles every day and a marathon once a week all the way until I started my run and then I jumped it up to fifty miles a day and gutted it out. It worked out.
GCR: You mentioned talking to others. When you were preparing for your Run Across America, how helpful was reading information about the crossings by Marshall Ulrich, Dean Karnazas, Perry Newburn and others or talking to them first hand?
JR Help from other transcontinental runners was invaluable. There is a Facebook group called ‘USA Crossers’ for people who have crossed the USA on foot at all paces. Pete Kostelnick, who bested the World Record a few months after my crossing, is on there with others always giving advice to other people who are crossing. In my case, Marshall Ulrich, who lives in Colorado, was absolutely invaluable support to me. Marshall came down and we met and had lunch with my mom and my crew. He helped me dissect what I was doing from a training perspective, with my clothing, my route and to stay in the game mentally. He told me about pain. He told me, ‘Jason, you are going to hurt out there and there is going to be pain. You can’t fight it.’ He knew that in some ultras you could push through it. His words were, ‘It will never stop. It will always be attacking you.’ He told me when he was out there and he felt the pain, he would say, ‘Pain, I know you’re here and it’s okay. I’m going to keep running now.’ He would talk to pain like it was an animated object. And I can’t tell you how many times I was fighting the pain mentally and going ‘Argghh,’ and trying to fight through it when Marshall would pop into my head. I talked to the pain and was able to recover. That was incredible. When I got to a thousand miles I texted Marshall and said, ‘I don’t have a clue how I’m going to do this.’ He would give me encouragement and say, ‘I was there. You can do it.’ And he would give me some tips. I would get notes from Perry Newburn, who is Facebook buddy, once in a while that were unsolicited and he would say things like, ‘Jason, you’re doing it. You can do it.’ And I knew that these people knew what I was experiencing. Nobody else could. Others could say, ‘It’s incredible’ or ‘It’s inspiring.’ But when someone who has done it and experienced what you are going through encourages you, it can’t be described or understood, but it was enough to fuel me and to make me take that next step that I needed to take several times during that run.
GCR: You noted that the Run Across America left you with some negative physical effects, but what are you doing now for regular exercise, how much do you run and what are some of your upcoming goals?
JR I run all the time. I run ten to twenty miles a day, pretty much every day. I have a busy year this year with an upcoming trail marathon in Salida, a double crossing of the Grand Canyon, the Boston Marathon, a couple marathons in May and then a couple hundred milers this summer. I’m doing the Leadman Challenge in Leadville this summer which, over five days, is a trail marathon, fifty mile run, fifty mile mountain bike 10k run and 100 mile run. I stay pretty active. I always try to keep my fitness level where, frankly, I can do a marathon at the drop of a dime. Hopefully, with a couple weeks training, I’ll be able to finish a 100-miler. I won’t be at the front of the pack, but hopefully at mid-pack without destroying myself. What I realized with that Run Across America is that I’m made to run. I believe we are all made to run. Like in Chris McDougal’s book, ‘Born to Run,’ we are all born to run. It’s wonderful. We didn’t talk about it too deeply, but depression is something I struggle with on a daily basis. Four years ago it had me badly in its grasp. I went to counseling for a year and a half on a weekly basis and I use running as a means to be able to equalize my mental state and to deal with this depression. As I go blind I always find myself in some level of depressive state trying to grasp what is happening to me and what will happen in my life. My kids know when I’m not running because I start acting a little edgy. They’ll say, ‘Dad, why don’t you go out for a run and we’ll take care of things over here.’ They give me my hall pass to run all of the time.
GCR: You revealed that about halfway through your Run Across America when you turned off the noise that you had a chance to think a lot more. How different are you today and what did you unexpectedly find out about yourself during those sixty days and how different are you today because of your undertaking?
JR I really had a conflict with pride and ego which are things that hopefully I have been able to jettison as a result of that run. By getting rid of pride and silly ego, I have been a lot more able to become much more vulnerable myself and more vulnerable with people. I think that’s the reason people and corporations like me to speak. Coors is one of my clients and I will be going back a third time to speak to a group at Coors. When I tell them my story I tell it with no holds barred in a very real and vulnerable way with how I felt and the ups and downs. I share with people and if I transformed some way as a result of the run, that is how I transformed – to become vulnerable. You mentioned that relationship that went up and down. Before this run I would have engaged in arguments of ‘I’m right’ or ‘how could you think this?’ or other bickering. Now what I’ve been able to do is to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness, regardless of whether a person asks for it or not. I’m still human and I have feelings, but that is constantly the state I work toward – a state of peace and a state of helping. My birthday was earlier this week and what I chose to give myself for my birthday was to fly out to a little, small town of Gering, Nebraska and to speak to a bunch of middle schoolers and high school kids that I would never speak to otherwise. I wanted to go out there and I knew I would tell the story and I knew I would start crying and open up all of these feelings and that it would take a day or so to get back to a functioning state. After I give a talk all the emotional stuff takes some recovery. But I chose to do that because it is my service. It is my calling. That’s what I’m supposed to do. If that’s how I’ve transformed, then I have gained an ability to be vulnerable and that’s how I connect with people. I am thankful to have had that experience and at least I am able to be vulnerable for the remainder of my life so that I can make a difference in other people’s lives.
GCR: We spoke earlier about how you were a lawyer, a businessman, ran corporate divisions and were CEO of a nonprofit, but now you are a motivational speaker. How rewarding is it to use what you have developed on that run like your ‘Success Cycle’ and your ‘Triple A Strategy’ and those four themes we mentioned earlier that you probably wouldn’t have developed without that run and then to use them to so positively affect others whether they are adult businessman or they are twelve or thirteen year old kids?
JR It makes it all worthwhile. It makes all of the pain, all of the hurt, all of the struggle worthwhile. On Monday I spoke to a Title One Elementary school group and there were some kids there that sang my ‘Happy Birthday.’ When I finished, the person in charge asked me, knowing that I wasn’t charging for my talk, if I would like a school lunch. I do all of my speaking at schools free of charge. I give back to the community. So I said, ‘Sure, I’d love a school lunch.’ I spoke with the lunch ladies in Spanish and I had lunch with the kids. There were kids who came up and just hugged me. And they didn’t say a word. But their hugs told me that I shared with them exactly what they needed to hear at that moment in their lives. I don’t know what it is or how it affects them, but I do know that I was able to connect with them. Through being vulnerable it helped them. And that is also true in a corporate setting with adults. I get people who are the strongest people and who may be company presidents and they come up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes and they tell me, ‘You told me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment.’ If I have to sit there and be a grown man and cry on stage and share my fears and my struggles and having to rely on government assistance and how I felt shame and to be open about that, then that is okay. Maybe by doing that it gives somebody else permission to be vulnerable and maybe it helps another person on their journey. That’s what I want to do.
GCR: We have talked about overcoming obstacles and adversity in many areas while you met challenges and strove toward your potential. When you speak to groups and synthesize what you have learned in life, how do you sum up the ‘Jason Romero Philosophy’ in a minute or two when you really want to close it and really hit them and leave them with something as they walk away that is going to help them in life?
JR You have to come to one of my talks, Gary, to experience that.
GCR: Well, Jason, you need to come to Florida.
JR (Both of us laughing). I’d love to! My closing thought really depends on what the audience has brought me there for. Sometimes they bring me for leadership or teamwork. But a key theme that runs through my closing remarks when I speak to a group has to do with adversity and how that is an advantage for us all. I take them through my deepest, darkest days and life is going to knock us all on our butt at some point in time. I have this eyesight situation and at times it is horrible and it’s like I don’t want to go on because I’m not going to be able to see. But even when we are in our darkest, deepest troughs in life, we have hope to hang on to. As long as we never let go of that hope and we don’t take ourselves out of that game, we’re going to be able to make it through. It’s going to get better. It’s not anything that anyone doesn’t know already, but it’s a reminder and I just use my personal story to encourage folks as I close. Adversity is our friend and it makes us a stronger, better person.
GCR: Finally, if someone wishes to order an autographed copy of ‘Running Into the Dark’ or to inquire about you speaking to their company, at their school, at a race or some other event, what should they do?
JR The way to find me is to go to my website which is To order a book, go to and there are a variety of different options. Maybe the easiest way is to order from Amazon where it is also available in digital format. In April of 2018 I will be releasing an audio book that will be available at If anybody has comments or wants to talk about running in general or transcontinental running, I can be reached at
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I like serving the homeless. I go to food distribution; I collect clothes from my neighbors, give talks to them or do anything I can that will help. I would call that my hobby – helping the homeless population
Nicknames I do have a nickname that I’m hesitant to say, but in college my nickname was ‘Chip.’ And my dear friends from that era of my life still refer to me as ‘Chip.’ It’s kind of cool because my kids will hear it and say, ‘Who’s Chip?’ ‘I’m Chip.’ ‘Relentless Romero’ is sort of my mantra to always make relentless forward progress. I’ve always told myself, ‘Run. When you can’t run, walk. When you can’t walk, crawl. When you can’t crawl, get someone to drag you. Just never stop moving forward.’ That’s always been my mantra. I’ve gotten into these tough races where I feel like I can’t move forward and I just say to myself, ‘You’ve got to make relentless forward progress.’ That’s why I chose ‘Relentless Romero’
Favorite movies The best movie ever is ‘Armageddon.’ That’s because Bruce Willis saves the world, he goes down in flames, he loves his kid – it’s the full dramatic piece of Sci-Fi. I absolutely love it. I also love all Disney movies. My son, Sage, absolutely loves Disney movies and that is a lot of what we watch
Favorite TV shows My favorite television show as a child was definitely ‘Happy Days’ because of ‘The Fonz.’ My favorite as an adult is the series ‘House’ that was on Netflix
Favorite music Country music by far. Every morning when I wake up I talk to Alexa and ask her to play country music and she does. I’m not sure if I have a favorite artist. Just any country music
Favorite books My favorite book of all time is called, ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by Scott Peck. More recently in this past year I read a book called, ‘The Last Lecture,’ by a professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon and gave a last lecture on life for his kids who were three and five years old since they wouldn’t see him as he grew older because he was dying. It’s a short book and a short read that I gave to all of my kids and nephews and a lot of my friends’ kids. I order hardback copies and give them out regularly. It is a wonderful book
First car My first car was a used Audi that a judge, who was a friend of our family, was getting rid of. The Conreys were good friends and I ended up giving eulogies later on for Mr. Conrey and Mrs. Conrey. It was a wonderful first car
Current transportation I don’t care about cars now because I don’t drive, but I do have an electric bicycle. That has been an adaptation, though I may not be riding it much longer unless bike lanes become much more prevalent
First Job When I turned fourteen I was able to get a work permit from my school and I was a janitor at my local school. I used to sweep the floors, empty out the trash cans and I had a putty knife which I used to scrape gum off of the ground from my friends who would spit their gum on the ground and make me clean it up. It wasn’t pretty, but it was my job
Family Not enough could ever be said about my mom and we didn’t really talk in depth about that. She was the one support person on this venture and, at the time, she was sixty-nine years old. She did the work of five to seven people crewing me, driving the vehicle and almost getting hit by cars herself. She just had tireless, unending love and a tremendous work ethic. She never, ever quit on me. There couldn’t be a better example of a mother’s love than the love that my mother has given me. That is always an inspiration for me. My kids are my reason for living. They keep me moving forward. I don’t even know how to describe the miracle and blessing my children have given to me. My oldest, Sierra, is eighteen. My son, Sage, is seventeen. My youngest, Sophia, is twelve. I could not imagine life without my children. They are such a joy and such a blessing and they’re the reason why I live
Pets We do have pets in the household. One is ‘Doug the Pug.’ We’re not sure how old he is. We think he’s around ten years old. He does a lot of sleeping and snorting and likes to go for his walk on a daily basis. He can only make one time around the block now. Then I have the queen of the house, who is my cat, and she actually is named, ‘Queen.’ She is more like a dog. You can call her name and she will walk to you and not give you ‘cattitude.’ Every day when I come home she meets me at the door and is a pretty fun little cat
Favorite breakfast A cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. I really like spicy food. I have a Mexican background. Before my grandma passed away she taught me to make her famous green chile so I always have a jar of that in the fridge. I whip up an egg and potato burrito and throw some of that green chile on there and it’s the best thing ever
Favorite meal Pesto sauce from Costco on penne noodles with a little bit of chicken and some parmesan cheese
Favorite beverages Water – hands down! I believe water can cure everything – headaches, broken arms, broken hearts – everything! No matter what happens in my kids life, I say, ‘Drink water’
First running memory The first running memory I have is from football practice in high school. The team was not doing well and the coach made us run a mile early on in the season. It was pretty hot in the summer in that August time frame. Everyone was suited up in pads and we ran a mile and I ended up coming in first. I was ahead of everyone else and it didn’t even feel like I was exerting effort. I felt like I could have run harder. I was kind of taking it easy and everyone else was dead
Running heroes There is really only one person and that is my uncle, Ted Epstein. I have a whole chapter devoted to him in my book and he is just an amazing human being. What he did from a running perspective without having great talent, even the greats like Marshall Ullrich will tell me stories about my Uncle Ted. I go to these multi-day races and there will be seventy and eighty year old guys and when I bring up Ted Epstein, the conversation will stop as they pay him respect. I never realized what a wonderful, amazing, talented athlete and just a wonderful person he really was until I started hearing these other stories. As to other heroes, I’ve bumped into the likes of the best of the best and they are all great people. I really like when elite runners are so accessible to the mid-pack and back-of-the-pack runners. Even though they come in first, they will hang out at the finish line and talk to the average Joes. Those are the folks that I respect. In ultra running that’s how people are. When you see people on the podium, that’s how they are
Favorite running moment My favorite run ever which I encourage everyone to do is the rim to rim to rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s a double crossing of the Grand Canyon. You run from the south rim to the north rim, touch it, and come back around to the south rim nonstop. I did that solo in 2010 and it was the most wonderful, peaceful, challenging, beautiful, incredible experience I’ve had. I’m planning to do it again next month, God willing
Worst running moment I have had three DNFs, or ‘Did Not Finish.’ One was my first attempt at Leadville. I was hallucinating and I feel like I pushed myself as hard as I could. I got pulled off the course for not making a time cutoff. Any DNF is very difficult because you have to wait at least a year before you can try that race again to be able to remedy that. My other two DNFs were at Spartathlon in Greece which is a 153 mile run from Athens to Sparta. You have to time qualify and then you have to be invited and then you have to do it. That race took my three years to complete. I DNF’d the first year at a hundred miles. I DNF’d the second year at 115 miles. This past year I was finally able to do it. What I can tell you is that as I DNF’d both of those times I was right next to the time cutoffs and the race organizers would have let me continue. I chose not to continue. I quit. I took myself out of the races. Earlier in this interview I said we should never take ourselves out of a race. There are two times where I took myself out of the race. And it cost a lot of money to get to Spartathlon. It takes a lot of time, a lot of training, and for two years I quit on myself. Finally, last year I was able to overcome those mental issues of quitting and I was able to get to the finish line
Childhood dreams To be happy. As far as professions, I had this thought in my head that I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. We never had money when I was growing up. My mom was a secretary. My dad left when I was two years old and he was a barber. My mom always struggled working multiple jobs. My brother and I had babysitters. Nobody in my family had gone to college. All we heard was that doctors and lawyers are rich; they have an easy life, so in my head that was what I wanted. As I got older and I became a lawyer I realized that not all lawyers are rich and not all lawyers are happy. There’s a different path that we need to take. My dream was to be happy and content. It’s interesting because a couple months ago there was a Powerball lottery for hundreds of millions of dollars and I played it with my friend. We shared a ticket and she asked me, ‘If you won the lottery, what would you change in your life?’ I looked at her and I thought about it and I said, ‘Absolutely nothing. I’m happy.’ I’ve arrived. I’m content
Funny memories When I went to college in San Diego we lived off campus and we had a house that had a black-bottom pool. With four guys living together we would have parties sometimes and they could be crazy. We had this one friend that was totally nuts and he used to climb up on the roof, get butt-naked, put toilet paper between his butt cheeks and light it on fire. During the middle of the parties when it was at the highest of the high, he would jump off of the roof into the middle of the pool with the toilet paper on fire. He has moved on to a professional career so we keep that story in the anonymous category
Favorite places to travel Everywhere and anywhere. When I was in college I went around the world in a hundred days. I went to the Bahamas, Venezuela, Brazil, Africa, Seychelle Islands, India, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Trinidad, Canada and all over the world. What I realized is that we’re all different and we’re all the same. Regardless of what I saw – the Taj Mahal or a safari in Kenya – seeing things doesn’t matter. Interacting with people and making an interaction with a human being and learning about their lives is really what matters. People are different, but those cool differences make travelling such a rich experience. I just enjoy any place I can travel so that I can connect with people and I travel as much as I can