Veteran’s Day: Catching Up

Well, it’s been a while, huh?

Man, a lot has happened since my last post in March. It’s been seven months, to the day. I look back at that post, and it’s hard to imagine trying to even summarize everything that has gone down since then. I won’t try and do it all in one post – I owe those of you who actually take the time to read my posts some actual details. But I’ll hit the major points tonight, and try to go from there over the coming weeks.

For those of you who weren’t aware, we lost my grandmother, Tokuno, in the tsunami. Even as I type these words, it doesn’t seem real. It’s hard to think about, really. She died when the tsunami hit the rest home in Kesennuma at which she spent portions of her weeks. Some were evacuated to the roof of the building, but unfortunately she was not one of them. We don’t have a lot of detail on it, and it’s difficult to even try to imagine, so I try not to think about it too terribly much. It was an absolutely agonizing several days as we waited for word from our family, glued to televisions, Skyping with relatives who were not in the affected area, and watching news reports on the internet. For some time, there was simply nothing. For all we knew, we lost everyone. My dad carried an especially heavy burden for those days, as he received only a 30s phone call from his brother in the wake of the tsunami before the call terminated. For days, we knew nothing other than that. There was simply no information. Then, as we slowly started establishing accountability, we finally received word on the death of my grandmother. My youngest sister was the first to learn, and it was she who had to notify my dad. Finally, at least we knew.

In the wake of that, I pushed hard within my chain of command for release to deploy to Japan for what was beginning to be known as Operation TOMODACHI, which is Japanese for “friend.” Through the hard work of a dedicated network of peers, supervisors, and what I can only see as divine intervention, I was able to navigate the complex military bureaucracy and soon found myself deployed to Yokota Air Base, Japan. What followed over the next month, I consider the most honorable thing I have done yet in my career. My role was small, miniscule even, in comparison to the dedication the US military poured into that mission. But I count myself a lucky man to have been able to participate for even a brief period of time. Hopefully, I can capture in writing some of my experiences there and share them with you all.

Because life is life, while all this was going on, Jen and I were undergoing a major transition. We decided to leave active duty and pursue an opportunity with the Alaska National Guard, so as all this was going on, I was assembling application paperwork, conducting interviews, and praying for the best. Shortly after returning, I received word I was selected, and thus began major preparations for a huge life transition. Also no small potato! The summer passed quickly, between work, prepping to leave, and everything else, not a day was wasted. We sold cars, bought a new one, filed paperwork, and generally tried to figure out how we were going to live in a radically different location.

Oh, and there was also a lot of running. While in Japan, I didn’t have a lot of time to train, so I just tried to stay as fit as possible. Coming home and getting back in the groove was no picnic, but with the help of my friend and mentor Matthew Whitis, I got back on track. There were successes: at the age of 34, I posted a 4:47 mile / 10:44 2 mile in a local track series in the dead heat of the SC summer. And there were frustrations: my 5k race times were nowhere near where I wanted them to be. But through it all, I trained hard. Looking back, I consider some of those workouts achievements in and of themselves. The last track session I hit in SC was 20 x 400 with 200m jogs, alternating sets of four between 78 and 83s per quarter. I haven’t done a workout like that since college.

The move was incredible. Everything just seemed to keep working out and falling into place, to include finding a buyer for our second car literally days before we drove out of town. We spent time along the way with family (I built an earth oven with my pops in MN, which was super fun), and caught the fall colors on our way up the Alaska Highway in Canada. We saw wildlife, and scenery that would literally blow your mind. And then…we were here, in Alaska. Not for long for my better half, though. After ten days here, Jen got on a plane and spent four incredible weeks in Ethiopia. While there, she supported a new clean water/well rehab project and taught health and hygiene courses to the types of folks who still think disease is caused by evil spirits. You can learn more about her work at, and I simply can’t express how proud I am of my wife.

Which pretty much leads us to the here and now. To be honest, I’m not sure where Run For Something is going in the future. Recently, I re-connected with some old friends, who have established a new NPO called Team Run For Veterans (, and the focus will be on supporting athletic opportunities for disabled vets. Supporting vets has been on my mind for a while, and my new job up here in the AK opens some unique doors. I’ll continue to support Mocha Club’s clean water work in Sudan, but I’m considering making this year more about R4V. Today is Veteran’s Day, and to be honest, I’ve had vets on my mind for some time now, wondering how I can better support my own brothers and sisters.

Oh yeah…running…well, by now you should know me well enough to realize I’m 100%. 100% stop, or 100% go. I’m happy to report it’s still 100% go these days. My first act as an Alaskan was to participate in the Bonny Sosa Tuesday Night Run racing series here in Anchorage, and I didn’t suck. In fact, I manage to place top three in five consecutive trail races. The running scene here is vibrant and a rock-solid aspect of the community – the Bonny Sosa runs are essentially cross-country format trail runs, all hand-timed, and require only a 5$ entry fee. Volunteer-supported, and city-led. The courses are held secret until the time of the race, and each race, which occurs weekly in the fall, is held at a different location. One night, we saw over 1000 Anchorites ranging from newborns to octogenarians out there for the race. It’s one-of-a-kind and a definite kick in the ass.

It’s not going to be like SC, where I could race and train on the track and roads year-round. We’re officially in winter, and the snow ain’t going anywhere. But I feel strong. Strong-like-bull strong. Strong enough to post solid track workouts at altitude, and follow them up with a 3.5hr mountain bike ride of 24 miles and 2400′ of elevation change starting from 7500′. Strong enough to stomp treadmill workouts on the same day I post PRs for a 1000m row on the Concept2 (3:29 if you were wondering). Strong enough to get out in the backcountry on my splitboard and feel like I have miles of travel in my legs. Strong like…well, you get the idea. There’s a turkey trot in a few weeks, and if conditions aren’t heinous, I think I can get under 17. After that, Jen and I are looking at cross-country skis and running snowshoes for winter fitness, but we’re still learning the winter ropes up here.

Over the coming weeks, I want to tell you all some stories, and share some ideas and passions. If you want to hear about anything in particular, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. I’ve already got a suggestion to talk about strength work as it relates to endurance, and I think it will be interesting to talk about how runners get through harsh winters and emerge ready for summer/fall racing. I’ll be honest…posting every day just isn’t realistic right now (or ever probably), but I think if I set the bar low enough (weekly sound good?), we can see some success. Jen, Eric, and Megs – thanks for your encouragement and re-igniting the embers of creativity. Until next time, true believers…

Exactly what is aid?

As I’ve taken ample time to reflect on the race and where to go from here, I have also thought long and hard about existing paradigms on foreign aid and how we might need to break them in order to develop effective models from the ground-up. I asked Jen to prepare an entry based on her experiences she had on her 2008 trip to Ethiopia with Mocha Club. After losing the first draft due to the fact that our computer died before she had a chance to save it, she was kind enough to write it…again. Enjoy!

I still have the tan canvas Keens that I wore on the muddy soccer field in Ambo, Ethiopia. In fact, the mud can still be found inside the shoes. The inside of the shoe is imprinted with the word “washable” but I have no intention of doing so since it has been there for over two years and serves as a reminder  of one of the most memorable experiences I had while I was in Ethiopia. The outside of the shoes, however, are quite clean and look almost as good as they did when they came out of the box. The shoes are clean because of a young group of street boys that live in Ambo, Ethiopia.

Before I go further, allow me to give you some relevant information about these boys:

–          My team spent a day with about 30 of them. They have been single-orphaned or double-orphaned and their extended families have either neglected them or they have no family.

–          They are rejected within their own community (like most societies…even our own)

–          They range in age from 7-17-years-old

–          They have odd jobs, but can usually be found shining shoes on the street corners in order to earn enough money to buy their next meal

We drove our bus to an area where Mocha Club was building a new school for the Kale Heywet Church and we were lucky enough to have a large field nearby so after lunch with these boys we made our way to the field and began to play soccer. This field was muddy. The type of mud that is mixed with clay so it is slick and it sticks to everything. I could barely run down the field without slipping every two feet. As I walked off the soccer field I recalled a conversation I had with the nurse who had administered my immunizations, “whatever you do, just stay away from mud and lettuce.” Uh-oh, oh well! I looked down and saw my pants covered in mud and I had about six inches of mud surrounding my shoes. If I attempted to scrape it off with my hands, then it would stick to my hands so I walked over to an area with a few rocks and began to scrape  my shoes. That is when one boy came over and knelt at my feet and motioned for me to give him my foot. I rested my muddy shoe in his hands and he began to scrape them with a stick. He was barefoot himself.

I looked up and in front of me stood one of my friends and a boy knelt at her side and began to clean her shoes in the same manner. My eyes swelled with tears and as I looked down at the boy they fell from my eyes. At that moment he looked up at me and grinned as if it brought him great joy to serve me with everything he had.  I had to ask myself if I had done the same?

Soon, the boys all began to say their goodbyes and quickly rushed off the field. We inquired one of the older boys where they were heading and that is when he informed us that since they had spent the day with us that they had lost out on a day’s worth of wages and they needed to hurry and head to town to clean shoes in order to have money for dinner.

My heart broke upon hearing this. Here we were, thinking that we had done good by playing soccer and talking with them and yet they were the ones who sacrificed their time to be with us. We looked down at our muddy shoes and decided that we could still do one more thing. We piled into the bus once more and made our way to the main street where we found the street boys. As we exited the bus they greeted us warmly and we sat in their make shift tents and two-by-two we had our shoes cleaned. When I sat down to have my shoes cleaned, I had my doubts that the boy would be able to get the mud (or clay) off my canvas shoes. Especially when I saw the muddy water he was going to use to clean them with, but, regardless, I lifted my foot and let it rest on the rock that also served as this boy’s chair and let him go to work. I watched in awe as he fiercely scrubbed my shoes and in about thirty seconds my shoes were cleaner than when I had stepped onto the field.

Afterwards, I stood off to the side and marveled at how quickly the boys worked, the fact that they used rocks as their chairs, and that one of the greatest acts of kindness and service is to wash another’s feet and the ones to do this for me were the street boys of Ambo, Ethiopia. I overheard a conversation that our group leader, Geoffrey, was having with one of the street boys. Geoffrey asked him what he thought of Ethiopia and the boy replied with a big grin and said, “Ah, yes. It is the life!”

It is this experience that I draw from when I think about the misconceptions of “foreign aid.” I have realized that before I left for Africa I thought I was going over there to “help” them. I knew I wasn’t going to change anything grand, but that I would (perhaps) impact someone’s life. But I was the one who had it “messed up.” They served me and taught me that aid and service is a two-way street; a give-and-take relationship. I would be doing Ethiopia an injustice to go over there and think that what works here in the U.S. is going to work in Ethiopia. First, they love their country and we must truly understand that. Second, the only way to serve and aid is to teach so they can, in turn, teach others, etc.

So the Chinese proverb stands correct,  “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

Serving is truly a beautiful art. It takes practice, but what is so intriguing about it is that it is contagious. Like when I stood on the field “serving” the street boys thinking I had done them well, then one boy came and sat next to me and cleaned my shoes. He trumped me!  This is why my “washable” shoes will never be washed.

My experiences in Ethiopia were some of the happiest days of my life. To serve others and to have others serve you with everything they possibly have, it is, well, like the street boy said, “It is the life!”

1 Timothy 6:18-19
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.