"A few years ago I walked with a cane. I just ran my first 100 mile Ultra Marathon." Portland, Oregon USA

"A few years ago I walked with a cane. I just ran my first 100 mile Ultra Marathon." Portland, Oregon USA

The Conversation

COS: It’s nice to meet you. I have no idea where to start because I have so many questions I’d love to ask. Can you just give me the overview of what you just accomplished?

“I used to be 85 pounds heavier. I hated living in Portland because it rained, it was boring, and I wanted to get out of here. My wife wouldn’t let me. I’m glad she didn’t. Once I discovered running, my perspectives changed. You couldn’t pry me out of Oregon now. When I go out on those trails to train and race, I realize most of the people down in the city will never see these views. You can’t drive to them. I mean, you have to hike or run to them! You end up in these places where there is no communication. You’re literally miles away from anything related to civilization.”

“It’s a weird feeling to be in a place where your phone doesn’t work. And then there’s the silence, the absolute silence. You have to get miles away from the road to get that. I get to do it on a training run. It feels so great.”

“I’ve never done the same race twice. I never want to downgrade the distances either. I always want to keep working up.”

“I’ll only do 100 mile races or above from here on out. I was still walking after the 100-miler. So, if I’m still walking, it means I can go further. If I stay at 100 miles, it’s kind of like stagnating. I need a new place that’s different. I need to explore the beauty of it. I don’t race for time per se. I look at it, but it’s not the reason I’m doing it. It’s about being in this incredible place.”

“There were a couple times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. About mile 38 I was sick and dizzy. I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I ran into friends later, and they said I looked terrible and sick. I had to fight through this profound nausea. After some food, was as though I found a second wind. I caught up with everyone I was with earlier in the race. I was an hour behind at one point but, I went from a 22-minute mile to an 8-minute mile pace after eating. It was crazy. I felt so much better.

The end was very emotional for me.”

COS: I noticed from the photo in the article I read and from what you just mentioned, you weren’t always so lean and fit.

“Did you see the photos of the before and after from the article on the run?”

COS: I did. That’s how I recognized you when you walked up. I wouldn’t have if I’d only seen the before photo. I’m in shock. You were 80 plus pounds overweight only a couple years ago, and you just ran a 100-mile race! How did you do it? Have you always have a weight issue? I mean…this is just incredible.

Image courtesy of Steve Ross

Image courtesy of Steve Ross

“I didn’t see myself as overweight. You know… I was always “heavy built”. My dad was heavy built, and so was I. That’s how I saw it in my mind. I always said to myself, “I’m 240 pounds, so what? I’m a bigger guy.” When I thought of someone who was “heavy” to me that would mean they were 300 or 315. Not 240 like me.”

“I was on all these pain medications for daily migraine headaches, I’d had 2 back surgeries, and 4 knee surgeries and, as I mentioned earlier, walked with a cane. I was not fit, and I mean at all.” I was just sick and tired of it. I was on all these medications. I couldn’t be a dad, a husband, and a business owner.”

COS: So that was the impetus then? You just realized you were ready to make huge changes.

“Ya, that’s basically it. I just woke up one day and wanted to be a better dad, husband, business owner, and I wanted to feel good and enjoy life again. I figured, ‘I’m still healthy and I’m still young. I want to enjoy life.”

COS: What were the surgeries from?

The knee surgeries were for my ACL and Cartilage tears. When I was younger, I liked to push the edge. I think I just over did it when I was young and it all progressed. The back injury was the big one though. That’s the one that kept me on pain meds.

COS: What was the back injury from? Overuse as with your knee?

No, actually, it was from sitting too much if you can believe that. Sitting in front of a computer, hunched over, all day…everyday…and from there, straight to the couch. I had to have screws put in my back. It got so bad; I finally had to have surgery.

COS: Great, now my excuses will never work again. Oh, my knee hurts, I’m tired, geez, my back is sore today. Haha…darn, you just wiped out a couple of my best excuses!

“It’s funny when people say; ‘I can’t do it because I have a bad knee’. I usually want to tell them, if you just get moving, you’ll be surprised what you can do.”

Happiness and Work

COS: What do you do for work?

I’ve been in insurance for years. I originally moved to the US with a company I was working for in New Zealand. When I got here, I learned I was supposed to be working 7 days a week and I just realized, that was no way to live. So, I decided to start my own company. And that’s what I did. It’s been all good since.

COS: So, you started your own company? Did your wife work?

At the time, she was at home with the kids.

COS: You had kids, and your wife was a stay-at-home mom and you just said, “let’s start a business”?

“Ya, I said, lets do it. And we did it. I was married and had 2 kids.”

COS: I’m always fascinated with people’s views on risk. Didn’t you worry about safety or security? Or, perhaps what I’m getting at is, what does security mean to you?

“Contentment. You go around the world and a kid living on the street in Asia is happy. He has no house, no car, but he’s happy. Why? It’s because he’s content. He’s secure. That is his home and environment. If you take him out of that, he won’t feel happy anymore. Contentment is security.”

“Having more stuff and making more money is all great, but it brings with it more responsibility, more work, less free time to experience life.”

On Weight Loss, Nutrition, and Ultra Running

COS: How did you start with the weight loss and running?

“I knew I needed a head start. The Atkins diet was around, I’d done it before and it worked. So, I figured I’d start there. I lost 50 pounds in a couple months. This time I was going to do it differently than in the past. When I lost weight in the past, seven or eight years ago, it was more like ‘this is fun’. It wasn’t changing my life. In the past, I wasn’t motivated by migraines and pain medication. I knew this time was different. I was doing this and I wasn’t going back, period. There was no ‘maybe’ this time.”

“So from there, I began walking around the block. I thought that was exercise, based on how I viewed things then. But, I couldn’t burn the calories I wanted, so I started running a couple blocks. The couple blocks soon progressed to a couple miles. Soon I thought, ‘hey, a marathon isn’t that big of a deal’… I can do it.”

Dish number 2. Vegan lunch.

Dish number 2. Vegan lunch.

“I evolved from the Atkins to the South Beach diet because I thought it was more healthy and sustainable. Recently, I became Vegan and that’s how I currently eat.

Vegan is so much easier now. Being out socially, it’s more accepted and you can always find things to eat.”

“People really struggle with being overweight. They don’t explore. They don’t challenge themselves. It’s a mindset. I used to see a marathon as; ‘man, that’s big…that’s way out there’. Now I see a 100-mile run as no big deal. But, that’s my mindset. It changed. I explored and challenged myself and that’s how my views and perspectives changed. Now as I look at the 200, it’s like a new level. That’s how I see things in life. I’m going to step up to the next level. I’m pushing myself, but enjoying the journey. Again, it’s and exploration for me.”

“I’m a regular guy that just decided to do these things. If I can do it, others can. They just have to want to explore and push themselves to new places.”

Our vegan lunch in Portland

Our vegan lunch in Portland

“I associate stuff in my head. For example, when I was losing weight and saw a burger, I’d envision it as an oily, dripping with fat, ugly thing. Why would I want to put that in my body? It was a reversal of how I viewed things that helped. So, I wouldn’t put that in my body. When I see a great dish like the one in front of me now, I look at it and I see clean and healthy. Now this is what my body deserves. I actually picture these things in my mind.”

“And, I haven’t gained one pound back. I’m still losing weight. People lose weight all the time, but they don’t change their lifestyle. So, they put it back on. I eat a lot. But, I eat food that is good for me. I’m not going to starve myself.”

COS: Do you ever have people say things like ‘you need your protein for running so much?’ Or, ‘how can you be vegan when you need so many calories,’ etc.?”

“For me, recovery is faster since I’ve been vegan. After the 100-miler, I did a recovery run and had my personal best on a 10k. That was 2 days after a 100-mile race. I felt great.”

“I feel the best I ever have. I like to eat and I eat all I want. I just eat real food that’s healthy and packed full of nutrition.”

COS: Have you noticed a difference in feelings of happiness since you lost the weight and began running?

“Oh yes, completely. I feel more like ‘me’. I feel more confident and social. It’s strange, but I feel more like me that ever before. Like, my true self.”

COS: Do you think most people are happy?

“No, Unfortunately, I don’t think so.”

COS: I agree. What do you think the first step is for someone that really wants to be truly happy? What would be your advice?

“I think people have to discover what they really like. I feel that most people don’t actually do that. I was that way myself! I didn’t really know what I liked and loved and wanted to do. I had to find it. I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t decided to lose the weight and change my life. The process of engaging in that adventure led me to Ultra Running. It helped me overcome so many fears that affected me and for years, had kept me from trying other things in life.”

“So many times, we’re all told to get a college degree and a job. We do this without ever truly figuring out what we love and who we are! Then we find out the degree and the job, isn’t what we really wanted. We’re stuck in a place that doesn’t contribute to our happiness and joy toward life. I think people need to explore more. Go find out what you love. Try a bunch of things.”

COS: I agree with you. I also believe that as adults, we should continue to do this! So often, we get caught up in the job and life we created and we forget to explore ourselves.

“That’s absolutely right”.

COS: Do you realize how many people you’re inspiring by what you’re doing?

“No, not really.”

COS: I suspected you’d say that. You’re quite humble and it’s truly refreshing. I told a friend I was going to meet up with you and chat about life. I showed him the before and after picture of you, and he said; “oh, I know that guy! Well, I don’t ‘know’ him personally, but I just read an article about him somewhere. He’s the guy that lost a ton of weight and a couple years later, ran a 100-mile race. I’m really curious to hear how he did it. I bet this is going to be an amazing conversation for you.”

“Wow. Really? That’s pretty cool.”

COS: I agree! And, now you have nearly 14,000 people following you on Instagram. I have to say, this is amazing. You are literally inspiring thousands of people by being the best version of yourself. I love it.

COS: I’ve always believed “the rising tide raises all boats”. When we were introduced, I knew I had to talk with you about all of this. You’re a great inspiration man. I mean that… truly.

“I used to feel like I was 70 years old, walking with a cane and all that stuff. Now, even though I’m in my 40’s I feel like I’m in my 20’s. And, that’s how I want to live.”

The Story.

This is one of those times where I have so much to say about a person, that I have to try and communicated it succinctly so no one misses the story. What an inspirational guy.

I met Steve in Portland at the end of a great Northwestern US road trip. A friend told me about him and his miraculous life changing adventures, and we connected through a Portland based ultra running group, the Banana Sluggers. I was really looking forward to meeting and talking with this guy. I couldn’t wait to ask him how he went from being sedentary, overweight, and in constant discomfort from multiple surgeries, to running a 100-mile race. In 4 years!

We met at a Vegan restaurant I often frequent in Portland, and the conversation started. I’ll say this; I’m not surprised how nice and humble he is. Anyone that goes on a journey like this has some great things to share.

Steve was 80 pounds overweight, walking with a cane, and living on pain medication to numb the discomfort from 4 knee surgeries and 2 back surgeries. A walk across a parking lot was difficult. He’d had enough.

This story began about 4 years ago. It was 2009/10. The first step for him was the decision that this was it. There was no “maybe”. This was how it was going to be. It was time for him to change his life. He started with a strict diet to lose weight quickly. The momentum from that would help him go all the way to the finish line of his planned reinvention. There was simply no turning back.

Steve lost 50 pounds in a couple months and started walking around the block. Within a few weeks, he realized he wasn’t burning the calories he wanted to, so he began jogging a block or 2 and soon, the runs became longer. It was now miles instead of blocks. He realized he enjoyed running and a marathon was entirely possible. Why not?

He watched a movie, “Running the Sahara” that tells the tale of Ray Zehab’s attempt to run across the Sahara desert. It was here that the vision of “impossible to possible” was born in Steve’s heart. At first, he didn’t believe in himself completely. This was an Ultra Marathon. It wasn’t just 26 miles. He was embarking on a journey to run a race that was nearly 4 marathons tied together. The race was complete with hills, and trails, and unpredictable weather and temperature changes. It truly seemed especially impossible given his health conditions and lifestyle of only a few short years ago.

Steve had trained for this day for a long time. He was at the starting line of an Ultra race in the hills of Oregon. He was about to run 100 miles.

I’m quite sure anyone reading this can imagine how incredible of a story it is for anyone to complete a run of this distance. To come from where Steve was and end up here is one of the greatest inspirations I’ve seen yet.

One common thread I’ve picked up on in these conversations with others, is, that the race (metaphorically) isn’t necessarily the best part of it all. It’s the process that’s important. The race serves as a goal or benchmark, but experiencing the transformation, the growth, the newfound knowledge, and a new community of likeminded people is the fun part.

I was going to write about his run. But, I decided to let him tell you that part of the story. He certainly earned it! Below are a couple links so you all can read more and can connect with or follow him in his adventures if you’d like.

As of late, when I think of things I “can’t do”, or things that are just “too hard”, I find myself thinking of my conversation with Steve. I say to myself; “get your shoes on and get after it. This thing isn’t going to happen on it’s own. You have to show up and do it.” From walking with a cane, 80 pounds overweight, and taking tons of medication, to becoming a Vegan, Ultra Runner who takes no medication and certainly doesn’t need a cane anymore, is enough of an example for me of how amazing the human spirit can be. All you have to do is decide. And go do it.

Consider following Steve and his adventures. I’m going to.

Thank you Steve for the great inspiration and story.

http://instagram.com/no_limits_running

http://nolimitsrunningblog.tumblr.com

 

Caravansary: The Pope House Bourbon Lounge. Portland, Oregon USA

Caravansary: The Pope House Bourbon Lounge. Portland, Oregon USA

Caravansary: White Rose Estate Winery. Dundee Hills, Oregon USA

Caravansary: White Rose Estate Winery. Dundee Hills, Oregon USA