Every ultrarunner has the same recurring experience of non-ultrarunners asking why they do it. I get so tired of hearing that question that I don’t even tell people anymore that I run 50 or 100 mile races. The problem isn’t that I don’t like talking about running (I love to talk running) but It’s just not feasible to fully describe why I run in a brief statement. I’m not sure what answer people are looking for when they ask, “Why in the world would you want to run 100 miles?” Do they think the answer will be something like, “Well I’ve been trying to lose weight and running a marathon just won’t do”? I think the true reason that we all participate in the madness that is ultrarunning is so much more complex than even we give credit for. I think it takes a very deep dive into yourself to fully understand the “Why” which is what I’ve attempted to do here. Much of this post will have nothing to do with running but will hopefully do an adequate job in explaining my personal “Why”. Versions of this story have been told numerous times but never as truthful and complete as I’ve done here.
I guess I have to go waaaaaaay back. My very first memory is of running through my back yard in the spring time when the trees and bushes were all full of leaves and the sun was shining on my face. I must have been about 3 years old. It is the most carefree and joyous I’ve ever been in my life. I was never a runner growing up, at least not a distance runner. I was a sprinter! I always won the 50 yard dash during Track and Field Day in grade school and I was always the fastest sprinter in my grade. I played all speed and power sports growing up…baseball, soccer, football, track. In high school I played football and ran track. In track I ran the 100m (that’s 100 meters not miles), 200m, 4x100m relay, 4x200m relay, and some meets had even shorter events like a 60m which I always ran. I was pretty fast back in the day. I tied the school record for 100m at 11:00 flat and also qualified for the District finals in the 200m. Sprinting was fun to me…the gun goes off and a few seconds later you are done. You didn’t really have to use your brain at all, the mental toughness factor was 0. Mental toughness is where football came into play. I was 5’6″ and 135 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal! Everyone always told me that I was too small to play football and that I might as well give it up. I just kept on fighting and pounding and giving everything that I had out on that battlefield and eventually won the respect of my teammates and coaches. Not only did I play, but I was on the kickoff team as the “Wedge Buster” and a Fullback! If anyone knows anything about football, these are not the positions for someone who is 135 pounds. I got there through pure tenacity and an iron will that could not be broken. I regularly took on guys that outweighed me by 100 pounds and never once backed down. Sometimes I got crushed but sometimes I did the crushing. I never really understood that my brain was wired a little different than most people until one of my good buddy’s dad came up to me and said if his son had half the heart and courage that I have he could play Division 1 college football. I thought nothing of it then, but now realize that was a pretty profound statement.
Finding My Calling
Around this same time I found my calling in life. I was going to be a Navy SEAL! I’d always had a magnetic draw towards the military (even as a kid). My mentality was, why do anything half-assed when you can be the best? The SEALs were/are the best, so that’s what I’d do. I always gravitated towards things that were super difficult and the SEALs have the most difficult training in the world. The only bad part was I’d have to run long distances…a lot! I knew I needed to start training early. I was already busting out 400-500 push-ups and sit-ups every day along with rope climbs and swimming. Now I needed to work on my distance running (this would not be good). It literally took me 6 months to be able to run 2 continuous miles. Over the next 4 years I used my iron will and determination to forge a decent endurance base that would be good enough to at least get me to the dance. I could run about a 7:30 pace for 8 miles. My training prior to entering the military was like something you’d see in a movie. Aside from the hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups I would train at holding my breath under water, I would train at spending as long as I could in a sauna, I would stand outside in the winter (in a foot of snow) with only shorts on, I purposely went days without sleeping to simulate SEAL training. Everything I did had an element of SEAL training to it…EVERYTHING! I would run places instead of driving, if it was cold out I’d go without a coat, I never took an elevator. Every single choice I made, I was seeking the harder path…because of SEAL training. Some of the things I did were to get my body hardened, but everything I did was to harden my mind. I knew that the physical part of SEAL training was hard but the mental aspect was where the real difference was made as far as those who made it and those who didn’t. One of the biggest mental challenges of SEAL training is that it is a voluntary course. That means you volunteer to go in and you can volunteer to quit at any time. I’d heard that it’s simply a matter of survival and as long as you don’t quit you’re good to go. I’d never even thought about quitting anything in my entire life and I certainly wasn’t going to start anytime soon.
US Navy: Boot Camp
I didn’t enlist in the Navy right out of high school. I went to college at my parent’s behest in 2000 and 2001. We all know what happened on September 11, 2001 and thus began my journey. I went to the recruiting office after I finished up my Fall semester at Miami University and signed up for the Delayed Entry Program. This meant I had about a year before a spot opened up in training for me. I officially enlisted in August 2003. I had a clear path to making it to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL) training. I had to go to Navy boot camp, I had to pass the BUD/S screening test, I had to go to “A” school, then I’d get my orders to BUD/S (I know, everything takes forever in the military). Boot camp was a joke for someone who was training for BUD/S. The toughest part was the boredom that we all faced. There were about 20 or so guys in my boot camp division who tried the BUD/S screening test. This is the first step that any BUD/S candidate has to pass in order to be accepted into training. The test consists of a 500 yard swim (sidestroke only) in 12:30, 50 pushups, 50 situps, 8 pullups, and 1.5 mile run in 10:30. Each one of these individually is not difficult at all, but they must all be done consecutively will very minimal rest between. Out of maybe 200 guys who attempted the screening test when I went, only maybe 20 passed. I, of course, was one of them. There were 3 or 4 other guys in my boot camp division who also passed so we all became very close. We had to get up at 0400 every morning and PT (Physical Training) with the SEALs and other BUD/S candidates for a couple of hours before doing the other “normal” boot camp stuff. It was…AWESOME! I’ll never forget one morning when walking back from an early morning workout at the pool with the SEALs and it was the middle of winter in Great Lakes, IL. There was a wind chill of about -35 F all of a sudden one of the guys starts screaming, “My Dick is Frozen! My Dick is Frozen!” He pulled off his sweat pants which were wet from his swim shorts underneath and he smacked the on the ground and they were hard as a rock. Of course we all had to do the Polar Bear Plunge where they had to cut a hole in the ice on Lake Michigan so we could jump in (more training for BUD/S).
During our time in Great Lakes (after boot camp), my friends and I needed to blow off some steam on the weekends so we’d catch the train to Chicago and spend the weekends there REALLY blowing off steam! We started frequenting a certain adult entertainment establishment where we met many fine ladies whom we were more than happy to entertain after hours. I know, it’s so cliche. I quickly fell in lust and felt like I was atop the highest mountain on Earth. I’d passed the first obstacle and was actually going to BUD/S (living out my dream in real life), I didn’t have to worry about any bills or responsibilities, and I’d met a girl who I wanted to spend every waking minute with. My time was quickly coming to an end in Great Lakes and I didn’t want the good times to fade so out of the blue I asked her to elope. We flew out to Vegas and made it official. The next week I flew out to San Diego where I would class up with BUD/S Class 251.
I arrived at the BUD/S training compound on the ritzy Coronado Island just across the bay from San Diego. It’s hard to believe that so much pain and suffering can occur in such a beautiful place. I had all of my worldly possessions in the sea bag on my back. I checked into the temporary barracks that my class would be staying in during our Indoc (Indoctrination Course). I finally made it! The Indoc course was 5 weeks in length and is essentially designed to physically prepare you for the punishment that your body endures during 1st Phase. I met all the guys that would be in my class and finally felt like I was in my environment. I was with 188 other guys who thought the same way I did. Indoc introduced us all to the way things were done at BUD/S. We got our BUD/S gear assigned and we learned how to address the instructors, how to run the O-Course, how to make it to the chow hall (which was a mile away and we ran for every meal), how to carry our inflatable boats on our heads, how to do surf torture, and how to get “wet and sandy”. Oh, and we also PT’d our asses off. Indoc focused mainly on the physical aspect of training of and didn’t really get too hardcore into the mental toughness aspect of training. I loved every minute of it. I was certainly not the best at anything, but I was above average in most things. This was a pretty good place to be because I was out of the limelight from the instructors. The days were long, but we learned a lot and got back into peak physical condition. I spent all of my down-time getting things set up to move my new wife from Chicago to San Diego. I had to find a condo to stay in, a car to drive, set up the movers, buy furniture, and everything else that goes with moving. I got everything set up and she was scheduled to arrive the week before Phase 1 started (this is where the shit really starts hitting the fan).
BUD/S: 1st Phase, Day 1
I knew that we were really in for it when about 15 minutes before we officially started Day1 of 1st Phase our POIC (Petty Officer In Charge) rang the bell. Ringing the bell is the equivalent of saying “Uncle” or volunteering yourself out of the course. It is effectively saying, “I quit”. The POIC is the senior enlisted guy in training and is someone that pretty much everyone looks up to. This means that he also gets plenty of “special” attention from the instructors. We hadn’t even started the first day of the tough stuff and he had already dropped. The entire class was buzzing about it as we sat in our “Boat Crew” lines outside of our barracks in the wee hours of the morning before training started for the day. There wasn’t much time to talk about it as the instructors made their way over to us and ordered us out to the beach. We’d start the day with a 4 mile timed run at 0400 (that’s 4:00 am for you non-military folks). We’d done plenty of these in Indoc but today we got the special privilege of running while wet and sandy. This means that we had to jump in the ocean to get soaking wet and then roll around in the sand to get completely covered (if there were any non-sandy spots on your body you had to do the process all over). The instructors all knew that we could make the 4 mile run on the beach with pants and boots in the required amount of time (32 minutes), but doing it wet and sandy added just a little more psychological stress because now our boots weighed a ton, we were cold and wet, and we were chafing like crazy from all the sand. Once we got done with the 4 mile timed run it was time to run over to breakfast (another 2 miles). After breakfast it was time for Log PT. We had all seen the History Channel special on BUD/S Class 234 so we kind of knew what to expect with Log PT. The basic premise is that each 6-man crew gets a log (as big around as a telephone pole and about 12-15 feet long) and has to work as a team to carry that log along the beach and do various exercises with that log. Didn’t seem too bad from what we saw and after all, we were in fantastic shape! We started out standing shoulder to shoulder (all 6 guys in the boat crew) cradling the log in our arms and holding it as close to our chest as possible. The boat crews were all lined up, one behind the other, and our goal was to keep up with the instructor as he ran down the beach and snaked over the 15′ sand dunes. This normally wouldn’t have been too terrible except that our instructor was super-human and never got tired and just kept running faster and faster and faster until we were on the brink of total exhaustion. When we could no longer keep up we had to do exercises with the logs (to give our legs a rest). These included sit-ups with the log, overhead presses with the log, squats with the log, setting the log down and picking it back up, and many more. All of these movements with the log meant that everyone had to move in unison and carry an equal load or the rest of the team suffered more. If a particular boat crew started to fall behind or not give the sort of effort that the instructors thought they should then they would be rewarded with a special log called “Old Misery”. My boat crew got to know Old Misery pretty quickly as we were always falling behind on the log runs. Old Misery was a log that was about 5 times thicker than the normal logs (which meant it weighed 5 times more). We had to pick up Old Mis and run back and forth over the sand dunes with it. This log was so big that it would take us 10 minutes just to be able to muster the strength and teamwork to pick it up. After 15 minutes of Log PT every single muscle in your body was screaming in agony. Your lungs were burning, your body temperature soared, people were making noises that normally don’t come from human (the primal sorts of noises that animals who are suffering make). The first Log PT on Day 1 lasted 3 hours. Since my boat crew constantly fell behind during Log PT we were rewarded with about 30 minutes of “surf torture”. Surf Torture is one of the instructors favorite mental beat down tools where the students have to link arms and wade out into the icy cold Pacific and lay down in the shallow water and let the waves crash over your face. I swear it’s like they put you in some sort of machine that stops time because 30 minutes in the surf feels like 30 years. Then it was over to the pool for some more fun in the water. Pool evolutions typically started out with some sort of beat down. This was usually bear crawls around the pool deck with our sea bags on, or push-ups, or standing in the ice cold shower for 15 minutes. Then we would do some sort of “Drown Proofing” exercise where they tie your hands and feet together and make you bob up and down in the pool and swim from one end to the other (you basically have to just flop around and hope you are moving forward and can take enough breaths so that you don’t pass out). We had 50 meter underwater swim tests (lots of guys passed out underwater during this). Everything at the pool was to find out who wasn’t EXTREMELY comfortable in the water and to exploit those weaknesses in those people. Fortunately, I was extremely comfortable in the water and had no issues at the pool. After the pool we had lunch and then on to the O-Course. This was my favorite part of the day because I loved the O-Course. The obstacles were really cool and I was pretty good at all of them. No issues on the O-Course. From here it was to the Grinder for PT. The Grinder is what they call the blacktop area in the center of the BUD/S compound where all the beat downs happen. By beat downs I mean where the instructors get to show us how physically incompetent we really were (it didn’t help that we’d been going as hard as we could since 0400 and the instructors were fresh). PT consisted of hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, pull-ups, dips, planks, rope climbs, and any other sort of torture device that they could come up with. If someone couldn’t keep up (and nobody ever could) then we’d have to run down to the ocean and get wet and sandy and come back to resume PT while cold, wet, and covered in sand. Grinder PT usually lasted 2-3 hours. With PT over and our bodies at the physical edge of collapse it was again time for the 2 mile run to the chow hall for dinner. Once dinner was over it was back to the beach for surf portage. Surf portage is done with the inflatable boats that are carried on top of your head when not in the water and being used as a boat. This evolution required each boat crew to launch their inflatable boat into the water and paddle as a team out through the surf where they would then “dump boat” (flip the boat upside down to get all of the water out) and get back in and make it back to shore. Every evolution in BUD/S is a race. It’s always boat crew against boat crew, and this was no exception. These evolutions become especially challenging when your boat crew always comes in last or close to last (which mine always did). This means you got “extra” training in the form of push-ups, surf torture, sprints, overhead boat holds, etc. We got a lot of “extra” training. Surf portage usually lasted a couple of hours and typically morphed into mile-long races on the beach carrying the boats on our heads which always ended in more punishment. By this time it was dark and that meant we would welcome the cold embrace of surf torture for the next couple of hours. The monotony of freezing waves crashing over our faces and jack-hammering teeth was only broken by the occasional trip out of the water to check for hypothermia. During these times of extreme suffering your mind changes and convinces you to do things that you normally wouldn’t for just an instant of relief from the cold. One such example is peeing in your pants. This was something that they couldn’t take away from us and became so commonplace that some of the guys even peed in their pants when not even necessary (like just sitting there next to the pool). The day always ended with some sort of training session in the classroom which inevitably included 500 more push-ups for one reason or another. The most memorable training class that we had was from the CO (Commanding Officer) of BUD/S. He came in and drew a big “0” on the white board. He pointed at it and said that this was the number of trainees that his superior required him to pass this course. The number of SEALs was drastically low so there were some rumors going around that BUD/S would be made a bit easier so that more trainees passed and the numbers were boosted. He made it perfectly clear that he was not going to tarnish the BUD/S reputation and put other SEALs in danger by making the course easier. He meant it, and we knew he meant it. The day wrapped up about 0000 (midnight) and we were off to our beds for a few hours of sleep before we had to be back at it again the next day. I’ve heard others say, and I would certainly agree, that it isn’t any 1 single evolution that makes someone quit. It is the culmination of everything that you do day after day after day. The Log PT sucked but we made it, the surf torture is unbearable but we survived, the worst part isn’t doing it but knowing that you have to do it the next day and the next day and the day after that until seemingly the end of time.
Crash and Burn
Somehow I managed to survive for a few weeks of 1st Phase while in addition to training I had moved my new wife out to San Diego, purchased a new car, and was trying to get settled into a new condo. Before enlisting in the Navy I had spoken with a SEAL who acted as a mentor to help get me through the enlistment process. He gave me some great pointers, most of which I followed to a tee. The big one that I didn’t follow was staying single. He’d seen all to often where guys had gotten into a relationship and that spelled the end to their BUD/S training. I didn’t think it could happen to me. Everything seemed to be going just as planned until the week before Hellweek (the most important week of training) when my wife told me that she’s been unfaithful when she was back in Chicago before moving out to San Diego. This was just weeks after we’d said “I Do”! My life which seemed so perfect had instantly started crumbling around me. I could take all the physical and mental beatings in the world but the emotional anguish was worse than anything I’d ever experienced. This was not something that I’d trained for. My days were filled with the agonizing thought of her cheating. My body and mind were breaking. I felt as though I’d gone from soaring like and eagle to crashing and burning within the blink of an eye. This is exactly what my SEAL mentor was talking about. No way could a human being deal with this AND go through BUD/S. We decided to stay together for a few reasons but one of the biggest was because she’d been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and could receive treatment for no cost through the Navy. I had to try and forget the whole thing happened and get my mind back to training. Hellweek was coming up and I had to be fully in the game.
Hellweek is THE make or break point in the BUD/S program. Those that make it though Hellweek are almost a shoe-in to graduate about 5 months later. The basis of Hellweek is to simulate combat stress as closely as possible. It is 5-1/2 days of continuous training with a heavy focus on mental beat-downs. Some sources claim that students are given 5 hours of sleep for the entire week (1 hour per day) but that is overly generous and is likely closer to 2. I remembered helping out with the previous class’ Hellweek and seeing the guys who finished up on Friday looking like the Walking Dead. The culmination of everything I’d been training for over the previous 4-5 years was about to kick off. On the Sunday that Hellweek starts, all of the students are herded into tents that are set up on the beach right outside the gates of the BUD/S compound. No one really knows exactly when it will start so we all lay around in our cots bursting with nervous energy talking about what we think it will be like. We’d all seen small portions of Hellweek as the other classes were going through but there’s a tradition where younger classes CANNOT, under any circumstances, look at the guys suffering through Hellweek. This all just adds to the mystique and plays a little more on the mental savagery that is BUD/S training. I remember the sun going down on the beach and trying to get a little rest because I knew that sleep was not going to be anywhere in my near future. Before I knew it I heard what sounded like fireworks going off and the instructors screaming through the bullhorns for us to get our sorry asses out of the tent and onto the Grinder. Here we go! The goal for us was to make sure that we stayed in our boat crews through all the madness. The goal of the instructors seemed to be to make everything so chaotic that there was no way we could stay together and then we’d get “punished” for not staying together. I will try my best to describe “Breakout” but there is no way to fully do it justice without being there and experiencing it for yourself. Breakout starts with everyone being herded to the Grinder for some light PT 😉 It is pitch black outside which automatically enhances all of your senses. Before we get to the grinder we can hear music which is being blasted so loud it is hardly distinguishable. We get to the Grinder to find what can only be described as total and utter chaos. There are a few different stations set up for “exercises” but there must be 25 instructors there all waiting to dig their claws in. 2 or 3 instructors were walking around with fire hoses blasting random students with ice cold water. There were at least 4-5 instructors with M60 machine guns shooting up into the air (you cannot imagine how loud these things are unless you experience it live). Every few minutes an instructor throws a flash-bang grenade which explodes with a gut twisting BOOM and a flash that’s bright enough to temporarily blind and disorient you. It was sensory overload on a level several notches higher than I thought was possible. Boat crews were pushed from station to station where push-ups, flutter kicks, burpees, and a million other torture devices were used. When someone couldn’t keep up they were sent to the surf to get wet and sandy and come right back to the hell of Breakout. A few hours of this had the entire class on the brink of complete exhaustion (and we were just getting warmed up). Next it was out to the beach for some whistle drills which had the students run, drop to the sand, and crawl towards the instructor based on different whistle blasts that he gave. This drill led us around the beach and through a sewage pond and back up to our logs where we started with a really long night of Log PT. We started with the typical exercises with the log; sit-ups, squats, overhead raises, etc. Then it was a long run while carrying the logs in front of us, running shoulder to shoulder. We probably ran 4-5 miles carrying that damn log. When we finally got to our destination it was a few more hours of Log PT. Hellweek was everything we hoped it would be…plus a bit more! We started making the 5 mile run back down the beach to the BUD/S compound when my memory starts to get a bit fuzzy. I think we stopped about 1/2 way back to get some water and I started wondering off away from the class. The instructors grabbed me and saw that my eyes were glazed over and I was nearly incoherent. They checked my internal temperature to make sure I wasn’t hypothermic (this is done by jamming a long probe where the sun don’t shine) and my blood sugar (I have no recollection how they did that). They determined that my blood glucose levels were bottoming out and I needed to be sent to the makeshift medical tent on base. I remember getting there and having an IV hooked up and being given some Ensure to drink. I downed a few of those and started coming back around. After about an hour in the medical tent I told them I wanted to get back out with my boat crew. I should probably mention at this point that I’d been coughing up blood for about a week. Pulmonary edema is something that happens quite often at BUD/S and it’s typically due to constantly being cold and wet. I didn’t think about it at the time but looking back I’m pretty certain that this played a significant factor in my issues regulating blood sugar during Hellweek. I got back with my boat crew as they were finishing up with the log run back to the BUD/S compound. They all thought I was a casualty of Hellweek but were glad to see me back. We were given some MREs to eat and were then brought to our inflatable boats to start boat drills. The sun started coming up on Monday as we were doing surf portage out in front of the BUD/S compound. After a couple hours of surf portage we paddled our boats south for a few miles and then back up to the beach for more fun. The rest of the time during Hellweek (that I remember) we were attached to our boats in some way. Typically we were running with the boats on our heads. We ran and ran and ran until my brain blocked out the memory of running with that boat. I couldn’t even guess how many miles we ran that day with the boat on our heads. At this point, everything becomes a blur. The instructors yelling through the bullhorn, the constant cold and wet, the sleep deprivation, the extreme exhaustion from redlining for the past 24 hours. We became robotic and just kept moving forward. I remember going to the chow hall for one of our meals and we were all soaking wet and covered from head to toe in sand. There were some Marines going through the line with us as we were barely able to keep upright. One Marine looked at me and said, “You all are some crazy mother-fuckers! I don’t know why you’d do that shit to yourself!” The next thing that I vividly remember was an evolution call Around the World where we paddled our boats around Coronado Island. It was Monday night and nobody had slept at all. Some of the guys were starting to hallucinate from sleep deprivation. I remember having a conversation with myself about when I should pee in my pants. The debate was because I was out of the water and sitting on the side of the boat paddling. I was freezing cold and the pee would warm me up but the severe chafing between my legs would start to burn. The other option was to wait until we got out of the boat and into the water where I would still be cold but my chafing would be burning anyways from the salt water. I went with the second option. For some reason I had a brief moment of clarity and realized how messed up that internal conversation actually was. The next evolution was one I will never forget…The Steel Pier. We dropped our boats off in a parking lot on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado (right across the street from the BUD/S compound) and made our way down to a series of steel docks which jutted out into San Diego Bay. We all had to jump in the Bay and tread water. We spent 15 minutes treading water with all of our clothes on. Then we were told to remove our clothing piece by piece and throw it up on the dock. The water was freezing (about 55 degrees F) and now we were just in our skivvies. We were ordered out of the water and to lay down flat on the steel pier with our arms out to the side and our legs spread. They spent the next 30 minutes spraying everyone down with a fire hose that, unbelievably, was colder than the Bay. With your arms and legs spread there is no way to trap even the tiniest bit of body heat and core temperature drops like a rock. There is no way to accurately describe how cold I was during those few hours. We were all shaking so violently that we looked like fish flopping around on that pier. No matter how hard I tried to sink back into my subconscious to block out the misery the cold would just yank me right back to the present where I was fully aware and felt every freezing drop of the fire hose stinging my face and body. My muscles were cramping up from the involuntary contractions my brain was forcing on my body to try to produce a little heat so that I’d at least survive. Then back in the Bay to try and tread water struggling to stay afloat with cramping muscles and a body and mind on the brink of giving in to just sinking to the bottom to make it all end. The cycle repeated, in the water and out on the pier, for the next few agonizing hours. Time stood still and I spent 3 lifetimes in that evolution. My mind blanked everything else out after that and the next thing I remember I was back on the beach while my boat crew was doing boat drills and the instructors had me by the ambulance that followed the class around. I remember trying to get back out to my boat crew but was grabbed and forced back to the ambulance. I kept saying that I need to get back to my boat crew, they needed my help. My head was forced down to the bumper of the ambulance and my pants dropped to my ankles so the corpsman could get my temp and blood sugar readings again. I remember hearing them say, “That can’t be right, do it again!” They tested me a few times and off I went to the medical tent again for more IV and some food. It was the early hours of Tuesday morning and we still hadn’t slept. All I remember is continuing to say that I needed to get back to my boat crew. Finally after a few IV bags and god-knows what else, I was back in the ambulance and on my way back to my boat crew. The only brief memory I have of Tuesday was around mid-day where we were going through the O-Course as a boat crew and carrying our boats over each obstacle. I blanked out again until Tuesday night as the sun was going down. They had “Med Checks” at the BUD/S compound where everyone stripped down to nothing and had the doctors check us all over. Because I’d been seen twice at the medical tent already, they made me get on a stationary bike and pedal until my heart rate got as high as I could get it. I have no idea what they were checking for but they kept listening to my heart and lungs. After about 10 minutes I was cleared to go back out. We were allowed to put on a warm, dry uniform and dry boots! This was the first time I’d been warm and dry in over 48 hours. This raised my spirits so high I think I began to smile. The instructors lined everyone up on the beach to wave goodbye to the sun. Now it was time for surf torture. My mood suddenly went from calm and content to the most depressed and low I’d ever been in my entire life. My warm dry uniform only stayed that way for a minute or two and I was again thrust back into the icy grips of the Pacific Ocean. Surf torture lasted longer than I ever remember it lasting. We were in the water for 30 minutes and then back out so the docs could check for hypothermia and then back in for 30 minutes. This went on and on and on. I started hallucinating after 3 or 4 cycles of this. They were auditory hallucinations and there was a voice that I could only imagine was God. He started talking to me while I was laying in the surf with my arm linked to members of my boat crew on either side. It was a very soft and kind voice. It started talking to me in a very comforting way. It was asking about my wife and how she was coping with the diagnosis of MS. It was asking how I was coping with her infidelity. We had a long conversation while I was freezing to death in the Pacific Ocean. The instructors had us get out again and stand on the sand dune facing the ocean. The conversation continued with my invisible friend and he convinced me that there was no way that my wife would be able to stay faithful while I was deployed with the SEAL Teams. How could she manage her illness all alone? It said that I just needed a little more time to make sure my wife was in a better place. It was saying that I could come back in a year or two and do things all over and wouldn’t have to worry about her anymore. It sounds strange but everything the voice was telling me was making perfect sense. Thinking back on that experience I’m convinced that my brain thought I was dying and was trying to subconsciously figure out a way to save my life. I didn’t know it at the time that my SEAL mentor told me, but this is exactly why he said to stay single through training. Your mind knows your weaknesses and will do anything for self-preservation. The instructors yelled for everyone to get back in the water and I stayed standing on the sand dune. I hobbled over to the chief instructor in charge of Hellweek and told him that I was done. He looked at me with, what I perceived as, disbelief in his eyes and asked if I was sure. I said yes. He asked me why and I said that I needed to take care of some family issues at home. He led me over to a brass ship’s bell that was attached to the white 4×4 truck that the instructors drove around. My brain was numb. A hand reached up and grabbed the chain hanging from the bell. I hardly noticed that it was my hand. DING…DING…DING! It was over…I had just quit something for the first time in my entire life. It wasn’t just something, it was the only thing I had ever wanted to do. My life was over with the ring of a bell.
After this crazy whirlwind of events took place and I had a chance to reflect on what actually happened not only did I know I had made a HUGE mistake but it caused me to re-evaluate who I was as a person. Up to this point my identity was that of someone who never ever gave up on anything. The tougher something was, the more I wanted to do it. No longer could I think of myself as special. I was just a regular person who failed at life and quit when things got tough. This very deeply affected me for a long time, and still does. I went to the fleet in the Navy to finish out my enlistment (I still spent a 6 month deployment away from my wife). She continued to be unfaithful and our marriage suffered greatly. She passed away from complications of MS in 2011.
How It All Ties In
The aftereffects of ringing that bell still resonate to this day. If you can’t tell, I’ve replayed every minute of that 6 month period of my life 10,000 times in my head. I don’t know how to make peace with it, so I run. I run to think about how things might have turned out. I run to relive some of the amazing adventures as well as the awful suffering of SEAL training. Mostly I run in hopes of going toe to toe with the demon that spoke to me that night in the surf and on the sand dune. I guess I hope that with enough suffering and pain I will have the opportunity to face the doubter and the quitter in my head again. I have met that voice on a couple other occasions during 100 mile races and sometimes I’ve won, but sometimes it has won. The drive for running longer and harder races is to continually test my mental toughness and harden my mind so that when I meet my enemy on the battlefield again I will not give up. I don’t run for finisher medals or to try and impress people with my times or ability. I run in hopes that I may have a chance for redemption in my own eyes.