Month: January 2014

Terry Fox and his route

“No!” is Not an Acceptable Answer – Terry Fox

“I bet some of you feel sorry for me. Well don’t. Having an artificial leg has its advantages. I’ve broken my right knee many times and it doesn’t hurt a bit.” ~ Terry Fox 

Before I started this blog, I asked my running friends to contribute their ideas of who should be included in this collection. The first and most frequent name that came up was Terry Fox. I had heard of the name before. My recollection was vaguely of a cancer survivor who ran across Canada, back in the days when things like this were simply not done. After reading a little more about Terry and after watching a couple of tear-invoking documentaries, I realized why he has made such a strong impact on so many people. His story is an epic legend, however, unlike legends and fables, which have a touch of truth and a great deal of creative amplification, his story is pure awesomeness without the need for exaggeration.

Terry led an inspirational life right from his childhood. He was one of those scrappy and scrawny kids who don’t like to hear “No!” for an answer. He loved sports, specifically basketball, and despite being smaller than his peers, he was more determined and he worked harder than the others. He made the high school team, and by his senior year, became the team’s captain. 

When Terry was 19, life gave him the biggest “No!” a young man could hear. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that typically starts at the knee.  He had to have his leg amputated and undergo chemotherapy. While in therapy, he saw how cancer took many innocent, young lives before it was their time to go. He also learned that progress in science and medicine made a dramatic difference in giving people a chance to survive. In his case, he had a chance of survival of 50%. If he had been diagnosed a few years earlier, he would have only had a 15% chance of survival. The final lesson, the lesson that clarified his quest for life, was that cancer research was terrifyingly underfunded. 

Inspired by the story of Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He called his quest “The Marathon of Hope.” It was time to hear “No!” again.

His body said “NO!” – As he went out on the track to practice running with his replacement leg, he would fall down … repeatedly. Terry got up … repeatedly, until he could run a lap, a mile, a half marathon.

Hi mother said “NO!” – This hurt, as she was the source of his determination in his younger years. Terry won her over and after his death she was the one who carried on his mission.

His community said “NO!” – A young mother said something to the effect of “Get that freak out of sight from my kid!”, after she saw Terry train and blood seep through his sweatpants where the prosthesis met his leg. Terry changed his training to night time.

Hi doctor said “NO!” – This was not a time when prosthesis were built for running. Terry took three of them for the run and had another one refitted during the trek.

The weather said “NO!” – Winter storms and gale winds met Terry at the start of the race. He kept running, a marathon a day against the wind.

Canada said “NO!” – When he started the race, nobody cared. He raised pennies as he ran through Quebec – nobody knew who this person was and what he was up to. Terry kept moving forward, his supporters kept spreading the news, and soon he won Canada over like no Canadian ever had in the history of the country. By the time he reached Toronto, the whole country was tuned in and he had to run hundreds of extra miles to give speeches along his trek in Ontario County.

The final “NO!” came from cancer. After thousands of miles on the run, Terry started to develop a cough and had some difficulty breathing. He kept going through the pain until it became unbearable. At mile 3,339, he stopped and asked to be taken to the hospital. The next day, after realizing that his cancer had spread to his lungs, he announced that he is suspending his race. Terry underwent treatment again, however, the disease continued to spread. He fell into a coma and died at the age of 22.

Terry Fox StatueTerry might have died, but his cause lives on. The news of his death was a national tragedy and a call to action. His Marathon of Hope not only raised the goal of one dollar per Canadian to combat the disease, but inspired millions of others to help raise funds for cancer research. There are statues and there are streets named after Terry Fox, more importantly, year after year the Terry Fox Run engages hundreds of thousands of runners and raises millions of dollars to help fight cancer.

Terry Fox run

Here’s a movie about Terry Fox, featuring Robert Duvall:

And ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, co-directed by Steve Nash:

On a More Personal Note

According to Worldwide Cancer Research Fund International: There were an estimated 12.7 million cancer cases around the world in 2008, of these 6.6 million cases were in men and 6.0 million in women. This number is expected to increase to 21 million by 2030. Personally, I never got to meet one of my grandfathers and I don’t remember the other as they were both taken away by cancer in a much too young an age. I saw a high school classmate slowly disappear from our life as he battled, and eventually succumbed to the disease.

We are all affected by cancer. We also see how brave people can be in the face of cancer and how our love of life can shine brighter when faced with the battle against it. I end with the following story of a fellow runner from my running community in Taipei:

Upon being diagnosed with breast cancer, Ms. K runs a triathlon. This was after attending a late-night charity event the night before and rushing to the train station to make the race on time. Ms. K then had surgery and began chemo in the weeks that followed. One of the questions she asked the nurse, at her first chemo treatment, was “Will I be able to run?”

Ms. K keeps running strong today and inspiring her many friends to run with her.

Happy Year of the Horse

Foot vs. Hoof – Happy Chinese New Year

“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.” – Ovid

We are still a few days away from the official start of the Chinese New Year. But from where I’m sitting (somewhere in the middle of Taiwan), the atmosphere is already abuzz with the upcoming holiday. 2014 is the year of the horse according to the lunar calendar. It’s a reminder that we’re not the lone lovers of running on this earth. The horse, I believe, beats out all the other symbols when it comes to running.

With that said, we (humans) can still sometimes outrun a horse. As is proven in this short clip.

So, that might have been a little edited. But there are some real documented victories of man against horse. For example, in the Man vs Horse marathon, a human by the name of Huw Lobb won in 2004. This feat was again repeated in 2009 by Florian Holzinger. 

Western States LogoAnd we should also remember that the infamous Western States Endurance Run, was originally a horse race. It was 1974 when Gordy Ainsleigh stepped up to the starting line and changed the race forever. He finished the race in under 24 hours, proving that a human could indeed traverse the 100 mile, high elevation, multi-peak event. In the years that followed more and more human runners joined, and in 1978 the human run became a separate event.

The idea to run without the horse was inspired by the fact that Gordy’s horse went lame on the 29 mile marker in 1973. Ainsleigh, it should be noted, was already a champion marathoner in the “Clydesdale Division” (a category reserved for persons who weigh over 200 pounds). So perhaps, the suffering of the horse might have something to do with the decision to run on foot vs hoof.  

So Happy New Year! Run like or even better than a horse in 2014!

Dave Scott and Mark Allen in Iron War - 1989 Kona Triathlon

Competition Made Them Legends – Dave Scott and Mark Allen

“There is a special mystique about the marathon, for example, because of its length—but that’s just the bit you do at the end of an Ironman” – Chrissie Wellington

This is a story about two runners and the power of competition. We’ve all felt it. Whether it’s in an official race, or when you’re out for your regular nightly jog, a little voice speaks to you “That guy just passed me. There is no way that dude is faster than me.”  Sometimes it’s a runner who looks like they are of comparable ability, sometimes it’s a grandma on a bicycle, no matter who it is, the bait is irresistible, we turn it on.

Dave Scott and Mark Allen know a little bit about competition. They both have won the Kona Ironman Championship six times. Through the 80’s and into the 90’s their rivalry helped elevate triathlon to the thriving sport it is today. They are legends, and the 1989 Ironman was a setting of their epic battle where they moved the goal posts in the sport (very well documented in the book Iron War). Their finishing time was more than 20 minutes better than the previous record, and, their run times were out of this world. Allen’s time of 2:40:04 and Scott’s 2:41:03 are still the first and second fastest marathons ever run in Ironman Hawaii. 

It is worth repeating that this was 1989, the dawn of triathlons.  And, with as fast as the evolution in sports nutrition and training practices have gone, it might as well have been the time of dinosaurs. However, despite outdated training techniques, bicycles that were just starting to take the shape of today’s aerodynamic rockets, and the lack of fancy glucose gels, they set a running pace unmatched to this day.

Lets also recap exactly what that event entailed so that we can get a better appreciation of a 2:40 marathon (a great time for stand-alone marathon in one of the hottest places on earth). The race began with a 3.8 km open water swim (that means ocean in Kona, Hawaii). The water looked something like this:


Next, came a 180 km bike ride on a road that cut through lava fields. That was a reminder of the heat on this close to a 5 hour ride. And again, there were no fancy tri-bikes in 1989. This was Dave promoting one of the triathlon bikes of the late 80’s:


Finally, it was time for the run. Sprinters see their opponent next to them for less than 10 seconds. Marathon runners see their closest competition for just over 2 hours. At this point in the 1989 Kona Ironman, Mark and Dave had been next to each other in the water and on the bike for over 5 and a half hours. Whatever adrenaline boost they might have had from seeing their adversary next to them had been exhausted. It was time to dig deep. The iconic picture at the top of the post, accurately captures how close the race was.

Some athletes describe the ironman in terms of burning matchsticks. Essentially you try to keep a pace that is comfortable for the duration of the race, but every once in a while you are forced to exert a little extra energy to either try to extend your lead over the competition or to not get left behind. With every exertion you are lighting a single matchstick, the one with one more matchstick left at the end of the race … wins. On this day in 1989, Mark Allen had one more matchstick left in his box. He pulled away from Dave with less than 2 miles to go and won the race by about a minute. Dave, after six championships, handed the reigns over to Mark who went on to win 5 more top spots of his own. The Kona championship of 1989 remains the most legendary day in the sport to date. The competition showcased on that day helped blossom the sport of today.

So the motto of this story is: Get out there and race! Feel a little bit of that competition. You can’t lose if you give it your best try.

He shuffled past the competition – Cliff Young

Today is Australia Day. It’s a good day to share the story of Cliff Young.

Cliff was a potato farmer from Victoria who at the age of 61 won the 875 kilometer (544 mi) Sydney to Melbourne ultra marathon. Once again proving that you don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running. Before the race, Cliff admitted that he prepared using the latest innovations in running training: chasing down his sheep for 2 days and 2 nights wearing gumboots.

To say “Cliff won” is an understatement, as he beat his nearest, much younger rivals, by 10 hours. He ran the race using an unorthodox form, today called “the Cliffy Shuffle”. He didn’t look competitive at the start, as he lagged far behind the competition on the first day of the race. As the night set, and everyone took their rest, Cliff shuffled on. He took the lead over night and never again relinquished it.

Here is a video about Cliff:

And here is a little bit more about him – including the bit about his marriage at the age of 62 to a 23 year old Mary Howell.

So if you are shuffler, hold your head up high, and keep on shuffling. As Cliff said “You just got to keep going.”

Kevin Lin, challenging his limits

Running out of Challenges – Kevin Lin

“The key to life is accepting challenges. Once someone stops doing this, he’s dead.”
~ Bette Davis

Kevin Lin Running in the desert

Some people choose to run around the track, some choose to run up some hills, more adventurous of runners might run up a mountain. Kevin Lin runs across deserts, countries, and continents. In fact, unless Kevin decides to go ultra Gump (not just regular Gump), and decides to run continuously around mother earth … forever, he has pretty much overcome every running challenge this planet has to offer. At 38, he has a long running career ahead of him, so he will have to be very creative with his future quests.

In the short history of extreme running, Kevin has already set some some very inventive benchmarks. The most well known and publicized one was his run across the Sahara along with Charlie Engle and Ray Zahab in 2007. That’s a 6,920 kilometer trek across 6 countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. Below is a quick sketch of the route (just for fun there is an overlay of the continental US for a closer to home reference).

Sahara Run

And here is a trailer to the movie narrated by Matt Damon:

So if that challenge wasn’t enough, in 2011 Kevin and his support crew took on and succeeded in running the silk road. That run  was about 10,000 km through some of the most hazardous running terrain on earth. Here’s another picture for reference.

Full moon

(So this is a slight exaggeration. Since the Moon’s circumference is actually 10,916km at the equator, you have to imagine the run taking place just above or below the center of the Moon.)

Those are just two of many of Kevin’s triumphs. As a runner, this Taiwan native has been shaping the sport and inspiring runners to go further, longer, and on tougher routes.

But there is more to Kevin’s running than just the need to conquer challenges. He has seen the beauty of our planet and he has also seen the challenges facing millions of people living in places most of us would consider uninhabitable. He notes that one of the biggest problems is access to clean water, and raising awareness of this issue has become his next challenge.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how some healthy competition can make us break through seemingly unbreakable barriers.

As always, please share your most inspiring runner suggestions in the comments.

He Ran Like a Demon … And it Stuck – Jack Kirk

“You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.”  ~ The man himself, Jack KirkImageHe is the man behind my favorite running quote there is (the one up above his picture). Not a week goes by when I don’t think about those words (and yes you can replace “running” with something that makes you tick). He is known as the Dipsea Demon, a title bestowed upon him by some serious runners who found themselves in his wake during one of the earlier Dipsea races. The Dipsea, famous for being the oldest trail race in the US of A , is Jack’s race. It being his race, he knew that the trick to kicking butt in it, was to take off like a demon up the Dipsea stairs and over some happily named hills like “Cardiac” and “Insult Hill”, and then to really turn it on down the hill before you hit the ravine, this is advantageous to a runner as the flat parts of the race are often narrow trench like trails where no passing is to be done. In any case, Jack was mighty nimble and mighty quick to the point where other runners gave him the nickname “Dipsea Demon”, and it stuck.

So that’s pretty cool, but why is he included in this blog you ask. Two reasons.

Firstly, Jack didn’t just get a cool nickname during a single Dipsea race, he ran like a demon not once, not thrice, not even ten times … but for 67 consecutive consecutive years that the Dipsea was held. He only stopped, after he collapsed at the top of Cardiac Hill at the healthy age of 96. He inspired Marin County and the state of California – not an easy place to stand out as a breakthrough athlete.

Jack Kirk at the DipseaThe second reason has to do with the power of words. The quote “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running,” will live forever, but if you watch this short documentary about Jack’s life as a Dipsea runner, you realize the man was a runner and a poet. You could write an entire blog entry simply by extracting Jack’s statements from the video. Here are some of the best phrases:

  • “Everybody thinks I’m finished because I’m 94 years old and still running the Dipsea. That don’t mean anything. Even if it takes me 3 hours to do it. I already gotta saying that says. Old runners never die, they reach the 676th step.” (Referring to the 675 steps that kick of the challenging part of the Dipsea race)
  • “Hard work never killed anybody, but worrying about how to get out of hard work will lay you in your grave before your time.”
  • “I like to run. I don’t push myself. Nobody says I have to run fast. All I have to do is I have to run.” (Talking about doing the Dipsea at the age of 94)
  • “I kept a record of all the miles I’ve run, all the miles I’ve run since I got out of high school.  And where I ran it, and a lot of the times I ran.  And I figured out .. this was about 20 years ago, I figured out that its about 75,000 miles And that’s nothing.”
  • Quick Exchange with a reporter: How old are you Jack?
    Jack: 94
    Reporter: How old do you feel?
    Jack: 94 … and a half

Jack passed away reached the 676th step of the Dipsea in 2007 at the age of 100. He left behind thousands of inspired young and not so young runners and a legacy of unmatched determination.

Next week we’ll look at a man who is still young but who is already a growing legend in the long long long distance type of running.

And as always, please share your thoughts on the Dipsea Demon and your inspirational runners in the comments.

They Run as One – Team Hoyt

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”  ~ Randy Pausch

Team Hoyt running in competition

Team Hoyt in Action

Team Hoyt

Whenever you start reading books about running or triathlons, you will inevitably run into stories about Team Hoyt.  There is no way out but to be humbled by what these two dudes, a father and son duo, competing as one, have been able to accomplish.

Quick Version of Their Story (See what they have to say, it’s worth it)

Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt. He was born and diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Unable to walk, talk and, on the surface, seemingly unable to interact much with the world around him. His parents fought tirelessly to integrate Rick into regular life. They soon realized that he is aware, intelligent, funny and a dreamer. They invested in, and worked with Tuft’s University on developing, equipment that allows him to speak his voice. And as the parents were waiting for his first words of “I love you Mom” or “Hi Dad”, he surprised them by saying “Go Bruins!”

Let’s Go Running!

Team Hoyt was born in 1977. One day, Rick told his father that he wanted to compete in a 5 mile race to benefit a paralyzed high school lacrosse player. Dick put his son in a wheelchair. They raced. They came in next to last. The first of brick walls was broken. After the race, Rick spoke a few magical words, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” Since that race, Team Hoyt has competed in thousands of races including marathons and iron man distance triathlons. They blow by most of the stunned competition. They run for the challenge, they run with joy.

Here are just a few of their top accomplishments (yes these stats are correct, not typos):

2:40: 47 Marathon

13: 43:37 Ironman

17:40 5K

Biked and ran across the USA in 1992: 3,735 miles in 45 consecutive days.

Team Hoyt breaks through brick barriers as if they are made out of straw. They inspire all of us to think beyond the barriers that hold us back.

Next week’s runner is not as ancient as our first inspirational runner, but he is a legend in his own way. Take a guess in the comments below as to his identity.

Please share your thoughts on Team Hoyt and as always share your most inspirational runners.

Pheidippides - The Original Marathon Dude

The first marathoner – Pheidippides

“The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race.”
~ spectator sign seen during a marathon

Pheidippides - The Original Marathon Dude

The man who inspired the 26.2 mile run. He ran. He announced victory. He died. A legend was born.


Is there a better way to start a blog about inspirational runners than to write about the man who started this whole crazy idea of running until your body can’t run no more … or, as in his case, until the body ceases all together.

So for those who are still not so familiar with the story. Here goes my synopsis:

It was around 490 BC, when Greece, at war with Persia, had just won a great battle at Marathon. Pheidippides, the running dude on team Greece, was ordered to bring the message of victory to Athens. And so he ran, endorphins pumping through his veins, until he reached Acropolis and announced “Joy, we win.” And then … the combination of joy from victory and joy from running was too much for his heart to take. His heart burst. He died. Poems were written. The legend of the marathon was born.

His greatest achievements:

He has inspired and continues to inspire millions of people world-wide to run. Some numbers:

He is the first documented running dude and he is the first in my list of the most inspirational runners.

Your turn

Please comment. Who is your most inspirational runner and why?