April 2014 started what was perhaps the hardest time in my life. I found myself at an all-time low. The irony was it was supposed to be the start of an amazing year. I was ecstatic to serve a one year term as the President of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), representing over 20,000 dental students from across the country. That excitement and joy was quickly about to change.
I received a call from an unknown number, hesitantly answering and waiting for the response on the other end. It was the dad of my friend, mentor, and previous ASDA President, Jiwon Lee. Apparently, she had gone missing a few days before and was yet to be seen. What followed was a month of fear, uncertainty, and investigations into the unknown. One month later we had our answer. Jiwon’s body was found washed up in the Hudson River with the cause of death as suicide. I was a wreck. To be honest, I was seriously depressed. She had suffered from bipolar disorder and I never saw any of the signs. I often blamed myself for what happened, especially since I saw her a few days before her death. I had no idea the things she suffered from and wish there was something I would have or could have done. She was one of those special people who believed in me more than I believed in myself and really helped me grow as a leader and a person.
While there is no linear or easy way to correlate her death, my depression, and my start into OCR, let’s just say that after her death, I needed an outlet. I needed something to take my mind off of the pain I felt from her suicide.
As an all-or-nothing person, I saw the videos of a crazy race known as World’s Toughest Mudder after running a Tough Mudder two years before. I knew this was the kind of challenge I was looking for. I never tried anything like this at all, but I figured beating myself up physically for 24 hours could help relieve the mental and emotional pain I was going through. I still remember sitting at my house and watching short 10 minute documentaries filled with these crazy badass runners named Ryan Atkins and Amelia Boone. The race looked miserable, but the type of challenge I wanted. This is the race that hooked me into the sport of obstacle course racing as I crawled to 50 miles in 2014.
I will spare you all of the details in between then and now, and while I am not saying WTM and OCR cured my depression, it definitely helped. In fact, the more I get into the world of endurance sports, the more I see it as a tool for people to fight off their demons. Obviously a lot more goes into finding a better mental state than running far, but it has been a crucial part in me coming to terms with Jiwon’s suicide. In fact, throughout all of these years, I often think of her as I am running, reminding myself how awesome and beautiful life is. I often find peace and joy in the simplicity of the trails and mountains.
I often find peace and joy in the simplicity of the trails and mountains.
Coming into 2018 I found myself struggling with my mental and emotional state. What was once an escape from my demons became a part of the problem. I was frequently surrounded by people who only focused on my results, and showed disappointment in me when I didn’t have a great result or didn’t get enough “TV coverage”. To be honest, it made me mad. I was back into a difficult place mentally and I needed a reset. I decided this year that I would say, “Screw those people! I didn’t need to listen to their negativity.” (And for those wondering, I am not referring to Keith Allen’s song about me. That was hilarious and is the type of fun that I love to have with the OCR community). I still loved running and racing, but knew something had to change. I needed to change my mindset.
I spoke with some close friends about this which really helped a lot. My friend Joel Forsyth even reminded me, “No one cares about your results, they just care about you.” What I realized is that the people who really matter in my life are exactly those type of people (Thanks Joel! See his epic gainer off of The Stacks to the right). I continued to listen to multiple, multiple, multiple (and I mean multiple) podcasts and interviews with Coaches David and Megan Roach, and their message of positivity began to stick with me (while they are not my coaches, they are probably the only people I would want to coach me. Order their book Happy Runner here).
So this year, I made a conscious decision to focus on the process of training and falling in love with the daily grind of working hard. I decided to shift my focus away from race results and instead focus on my own personal growth. I needed to find joy in the process. To be honest, this shift in mindset was the real victory.
So, I went forward this year and made the conscious effort to focus on the process of training, the joy of getting outside, and surrounding myself with positive people. I feel like this has made the biggest change in my training and happiness throughout the year. Putting myself up to new and intimidating challenges left me vulnerable to failure and to criticism. Instead of listening to the critics, I decided to look at it all as an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and into a place of growth.
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I want to thank everyone who played a role in making this Worlds Toughest Mudder one to remember! Whether you pitted, volunteered, were dq’d, dropped out, or won the whole thing, just remember that no matter what the outcome was, you are an inspiration to someone else. You made the decision to come test your limits and that takes guts. I know the feeling of not hitting your goals or the regret of certain race decisions may seem like the only thing that you can think of right now. But let’s learn from them and let them fuel the training and decisions of the future. Thanks for being part of an amazing community of people aspiring to be better. Thanks for inspiring. #communityfirst #wtm18 #smilesformiles #flipthecliff2.0
With that being said, I had a few races circled on my calendar. Instead of focusing on a specific place or result, I was focused on being the best version of myself going into those races. Needless to say, WTM 2018 was my main focus for the 2018 season. Having finished 3rd in 2016 and then competing in the team relay in 2017, I was excited to get back to a full 24 hours of the suffer fest.
With my focus on WTM this year, I almost exclusively ran long distance races, including a few ultramarathons and Toughest Mudders. This past summer, I finished residency and found a new home in Golden, Colorado. It was the perfect transition into a place where I could surround myself with positive people who supported my crazy endeavors. As I continued to train and race, my results were getting better, but I didn’t let that interfere with my mindset of loving the process of training. Winning Tougher Mudder Colorado and Toughest Mudder NorCal were simply byproducts of hard work, motivation, and loving every (well maybe not every) step along the way. My lead up to WTM 2018 was my best one yet, but the true victory came in the daily grind, the process.
For the first time ever, I was expected to do well at WTM. I wasn’t a dark horse anymore. Even though I would rather go under the radar and just do my own thing, I tried to embrace the fun of having a film crew in anticipation of a showdown between Trevor Cichosz and me. As the race came closer, I was definitely getting nervous, but I left myself plenty of reminders to enjoy the process. I even wrote quotes on the whiteboard in my house.
A week before the race, I called Trevor on his Birthday. We were ready and excited to throw down for 24 hours. I was never more excited to race against someone. Trevor and I are definitely competitors, but more importantly, friends. I want him there to push me and he wants me to push him. We are both out there to push each other to 100 miles, despite the predictions that it wouldn’t happen. We had a mission.
The stage was set for an epic battle: World’s Toughest Mudder 2018.