From Squishy to Ultramarathons & The One Critical Lesson I Learned

“Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal; and yet: as long as the melody has not reached its end, it also hasn’t reached its goal. A parable.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

March 26th marks an unsung anniversary in my life. On that date in 2010, I stepped out of our house for my first run. The quirkiness of the universe is that I would be diagnosed with MS exactly 4.5 years from this date – September 26, 2014. As this runniversary passed, I decided it was time to retell the story with a new perspective. One half of my running has occurred before the diagnosis. One half has now occurred after.

On March 25, 2010, Courtney told Avery, who was six years old at the time, about the week of our wedding. Right before we wed, my then-fiance had moved back home to spend the week with her family leading up to the big day. As the oldest and first to be married, she intrinsically wanted one last week with her parents and siblings as her immediate family. Once the vows were said, she and I would step onto a path to building our nuclear family.

Her parents and siblings welcomed her home. They fell into the muscle memory routines of living together under one roof. Over plenty of laughter and a few tears, they also had time to recount the memories of years gone by. While everyone was excited by the upcoming nuptials, this was the last time they would all be together like this again – no spouses and no grandchildren.

It was a beautiful story that captured the imagination of a young girl who dreamed of fairytales and wishes granted.

As I was tucking in Avery later that night, she asked if she could “come home like mommy did” when she gets married one day. I told her she absolutely could come home and our house would always be open to her. She gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. She was giddy, and I was, too.

After a few seconds, I could see her mind churning. She then poked me in the belly and told me, “You have a lot of squishy. I don’t know if you are going to make it.” These words were not said with the playfulness of a child. They were said with the piercing reality of someone seeing the world with a binary view.

I was shocked. As Gracian stated in The Art of Worldly Wisdom, “The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.” It was true that my health had taken a considerable downturn the previous five years as I was building Contegix. I could see this in the mirror, and I could feel it. It took hearing these words to see the larger truth. My health was destroying a future with my family. A six-year-old saw the visible health state. It would later take MRIs to see the full extent of my health issues.

I called a friend who was an ultra runner and told him of my plan. I would run a mile the next day. He asked me to call him afterward.

I could not sustain running the full distance of one mile. I ran less than a quarter of it, and I walked the remainder in humiliation. I felt worse because of the emotions delivered by reality.

I called my friend in embarrassment. I expected disappointment or sympathy. Instead, he congratulated me and celebrated my success. He also told me I needed to make it farther the next day and continue to repeat that pattern. I went out the following day and did just that. It was not much farther, but it was more than the previous day. (This same man would later be the person who guided me into Leadville in 2018.)

I would never forget the lesson I began to learn that day. This lesson would show up time and again over the next few years. This moment may not be perfect. It does not diminish the gift of the moment and the relentless pursuit to make the next second perfect. That is how we have continuous forward motion even when it is just a few steps farther. The mere effort, almost regardless of success, has a compound effect on the next second.

 “The act of discovering who we are will force us to accept that we can go further than we think.”

– Paulo Coelho

Over the next four and a half years, I would lose a significant amount of weight and run multiple races. I would dial in my eating habits. I would fall in love with running trails, and that would lead to running ultramarathons. Those two factors would end up being critical on the day of my diagnosis.

On that day, the doctor shared the results of my MRI and lumbar puncture. I have “greater than thirty lesions on my brain and spine.” The cerebral fluid from my lumbar puncture shows signs correlating to MS. Yet, these are only two of the tests often performed.

I had also undergone a Visually Evoked Response Test and a neurological examination. These tests partially measure the impact of MS. VERT records how long it takes for a stimulus to reach the brain. Basically, it measures how fast I process visual input. The neurological examination includes understanding how much stress my body can endure. Intolerable stress can often lead to exacerbations (the fancy word for “flare ups”).

These tests reflected the reality and its impact.

When Courtney asked if I should continue to run, especially long distances, the doctor replied, “Yes. The results of your visually evoked response test and stress test are off the chart positive. It is probably related to how much running you do and where you do it. You have built a tolerance to the stress and the volume of visual input.”

Rob Krar Ultra Camp in July 2018

One of the reasons I love trail running is the visual stimulus. Every step is different and always changing. That makes it beautiful and familiar yet new. It is also an immense amount of visual stimulation. All of this makes it imperative to keep attention on the next step. Failure to do such could mean a sprained ankle, a fall, something even more catastrophic.

The doctor also told me to “keep going for as long, as fast, and as hard” as I can for “as long as you can.” That is the lesson I learned. It is about the continuous, relentless forward motion when things are easy and when things are challenging. That is the only real means of change regardless of whether that is running, health, relationships, business, or whatever.

As for running, I am doing such with a goal of the most important distance – an aisle in a wedding one day in the long term future. It is the least I can do for someone who helped me hear and see reality. It is the least I can do for someone who gave me the motivation that would lead to saving the quality of my life.

Even then, that is the goal and not the end.

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