I have read Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and watched his Ted Talk a dozen times. The heart of Sinek’s message is that purpose drives people in an organization. Organizations succeed by clearly defining their purpose and deeply aligning people to that purpose.
Despite the numerous mentions by Sinek around individuals with powerful Whys, I never truly turned this question inward myself. More importantly, I never considered and realized how my Why has evolved over time.
“I don’t want to drive 100 miles. Why would you run that far?”
The Initial Why
I started running on March 26, 2010. Running, especially on trails, was never in my life plan. The joke is that one doesn’t have to outrun a charging bear. One just has to outrun the friend with you. At that time, I was the friend for you. I would have rather futilely fought off the bear than even try to outrun him or you.
Running happened because of my daughter, who was 6 years old at the time. I was tucking her in for bed after a long day. For me, the long day was filled with building a startup, trying to be a good husband and father, and consuming a diet of sugar, caffeine, and cheap food. For her, it was reading and playing princess with mom, including another retelling of our wedding story.
As I tucked this sweet, innocent girl into bed, she hugged me and told me how much she loved me. She reflected back on the story of my wedding. With glee and a partially toothless smile, she then poked my stomach and told me, “You have a lot of squishy. I don’t know if you are going to make it [to my wedding].” Another hug, and off to dreamland she went.
I started running the next day. I had no idea where running would eventually take me. It needed to take me to her far-off in the future wedding. I was committed to turning my life around so I could be there if she wanted me to walk her down the aisle one day. This was my Why.
I ate healthier. I discovered trails and found part of my soul out there. I ran half marathons, then marathons. I started running distances longer than marathons for fun and discovered there were actually races at these distances. Despite the changes and feeling much better, something always felt off. Healthiness did not feel like what I thought it should feel like.
My Why would change exactly four years and six months later after that first run. On that day, my wife and I sat in a neurologist’s office, awaiting the official words. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The words would come. Before they did, the doctor would say he had no idea how I ran ultramarathons. He was somewhat surprised I was even able to walk without aids or challenges.
It became clear that running and exercise had saved both the quality of my life and my life. I hammered down on running and races even more. I wanted to prove I could beat MS and every story I heard about it. It was about me and getting to her potential wedding. I was still private about my diagnosis. I would be the exception and be exceptional at it.
In 2016, I attempted my first Leadville Trail 100. My crew was let in on the secret of my diagnosis. They watched in horror as I tore my right hamstring 8 miles into the race and continued to run. I would fall short of finishing after running 79 miles with the torn right hamstring. (Hammer Nutrition Tissue Rejuvenator would later be key to my recovery.)
Evolution Of The Why
I would come back in 2018 to finish the Leadville Trail 100 despite food poisoning and my body struggling. I would end up bent over and leaning to the right. I attribute the finish to my Why having evolved.
I became public about my diagnosis and the challenges in September 2017, on the third anniversary of my diagnosis. Finishing Leadville was no longer just about me. I had witnessed too many people struggle with their MS – not just physically but emotionally. It was about all of us with the challenges life throws our way. It was about trying to do the extraordinary even in the face of the ordinary being a struggle.
This became part of my Why. This became fuel to get me from Harrison Street over Hope Pass into Winfield and back for Merilee’s hug. I also used the race to raise awareness and money for MS research.
I asked friends and family to donate an amount per mile with the cheeky message, “If you like or love me, please consider pledging an amount per mile that will encourage me. If I ever pissed you off, consider pledging 5x as much to make me suffer.” We raised over $60k and made a dent in the universe. I think it mostly came from the love folks.
For those who don’t know, Missouri is The Show Me State. A friend who also has MS and I decided that we would create a new narrative of what MS looks like. We would show the world, but we knew it had to be more than our story. We would bring the story to Jefferson City, our state capital, a mere 103 miles from my home in the suburbs of Saint Louis. Thus, The Show Me 100 (https://showme100.ms) was born.
We would live our state’s motto and show our politicians what this disease looks like – the good, the bad, and the ugly. We would advocate for those unable to do such and raise money to get us further in curing MS.
On February 27, 2022, we launched from my home at 5 am. We had 103 miles straight down the Katy Trail to get to Jefferson City. We also had a Why big enough for this endeavor. This was evident in the family and friends who came out to help us. It was evident by my state senator and his wife running with us. Senator Bill Eigel stayed with us for a few miles while his wife, Amanda, paced us for more than 20 miles.
Despite every preparation, the run was a microcosm of living with MS. The situation and conditions were more treacherous and unpredictable than expected.
The weather leading up to the start left the trail conditions oscillating between ice and sludge. At mile 48, I tore my left calf. The tear would later be measured at 4 cm x 2 cm. The overnight temperatures dropped more than forecasted and significantly impacted us due to the slower pace from the torn calf. The other runner with MS suffered hypothermia.
Despite this, stopping the run, just like living with MS or any disease, was not an option. We had a goal to achieve and the Why to fuel us. Our Why had grown to represent those with MS and the supporters that donated $130k to our cause.
On February 28, 2022, we crossed our finish line in Jefferson City. We would spend the next 2 days in the Missouri State Capital advocating for those with MS. Politicians spent hours with us and asked how they could help.
It’s been more than 4 months since the run. Since then, I have heard from dozens of people with MS and other diseases. The message has been a consistent one of gratitude. They are grateful for moving the world forward in funding, awareness, and policy. More important, it is the gratitude for telling a different public story of those with MS. We are all fighting in this quiet, often hidden battle because our Whys matter – family, friends, and our fellow MS warriors.
But here’s the secret… it was love from and of everyone – Courtney, kids, family, friends, and all those with MS – that made these endeavors possible. That’s my Why.
Hammer Nutrition has with me every step of the way. When my stomach turned 10 miles at 2018 Leadville from food poisoning, my crew shifted me to a mostly Perpetuem diet. They alternated the flavors at every crewing point. It was a small bit of joy to discover what flavor I was getting. Surprisingly, mixing them tasted damn good too. By mile 60, Perpetuem was the only fuel I could hold down.
Perpetuem has remained the foundation of my training and race fuel since then. It was the nutritional basis of the Show Me 100.
Oh, and Tissue Rejuvenator has been key to recovering and preparing me to tackle the next goal because I haven’t lost sight of my why.