A few years back, I decided to stop working out in gyms, and wanted to prove to myself that I could get a good workout wherever I was, with any or no equipment. I think that was the start of this crazy journey.
No, I suppose the start was when I was a kid. My dad always encouraged me to challenge myself. He was my main coach when I was competing in running, starting in the 3rd grade. He spent countless hours riding in a car behind me, as I ran along a canal near our house. Sometimes, we would drive 45 minutes just to run in a dry riverbed with sand. Other times, we would drive two hours to go to mountains in California, so that I could run uphill, and at a higher elevation which makes it harder to breathe. I will never forget a time driving back to our house after I had just run a race, and he pulled over at the canal where I usually ran.
“Dad, why’d we stop here?” I asked.
Nonchalantly he replied, “Are you ready to train?”
I didn’t know what to say. “But I just finished a race.”
He responded with something I hope I never forget. “Everyone you ran against is resting right now. If you want to be better than them, you have to train differently than them.”
I don’t think he was being too hard. He was preparing me for competing, and for life I suppose. He would sometimes tell me that he believed I could break the world record for the mile or two mile run. When my interests took me to other sports, I always wondered if it broke his heart, but he never pressured me. He would just tell me, “You know, the winner of the Decathlon is called the Greatest Athlete in the World, and I believe you could do it, but I won’t pressure you. It has to be something you want.”
Those times in my childhood had a big impact on me. I haven’t regretted going into other sports, which have made me more well rounded, but I always wondered how well I could have done.
Fast-forward to deciding to workout on my own. I lifted whatever I could. On trail runs, this turned into logs and rocks. I realized how great of a workout carrying things is, and started doing it more and more. Then, during a run with Jen one time, she told me she was feeling pretty tired. I joked that I would carry her the mile back to our apartment. So, barefoot and on the sidewalk, I began carrying her. The route was uphill a bit, and it was the first time I had really carried someone for a distance. I think I had to put her down 3 times. I’m also pretty sure we stopped the watch during the times we were resting. I carried her back to the apartment in about 16 – 17 minutes. No my feet or heels didn’t hurt, but my calves were definitely sore the next day. I could barely walk. Still, I knew I had just had one of the hardest workouts of my life, and I was really happy with accomplishing it. I had to find out if other people did it.
Well, not only did I find out there were a few other people stupid enough to do it, but there was actually a record for doing it for a mile, with Guinness World Records. The record at that time was 15:11, by a man named Ashrita Furman, who is also the person who holds the most GWR records. I think it’s close to 200. I was intrigued. I believed that if I practiced enough, I could probably knock off a couple minutes, and it would be on a flat surface. I also noted that the person carried had to be at least the same weight as the person carrying, and that the person being carried could not be put down. I started carrying things more often, and started carrying heavier rocks and logs. I knew I wanted to attempt it, but had no idea when or if I actually would. Time went by, and I read that someone else had beaten the record, with a time around 14:46.
About 6 months later, one of my Phys Ed teachers from Towson University passed away. His name was Jim Harrison. He reminded me so much of my dad. For one, they dressed similarly. Two, they had similar attitudes about exercise. Mr. Harrison had many achievements in track, but I remember him telling me that at one time, he decided he wanted to run two miles every day. At some point, he got pneumonia, and so instead of running outside, he marked off a distance in his basement and ran two miles. I know, crazy right? But awesome too! He also had a similar attitude toward other people, as my dad. He would encourage people to always challenge themselves. I remember him telling me one time, “If you always have a goal in life, you’ll never be bored.”
A friend of ours told Jen about him passing away. At the time, I was out in her parent’s yard, carrying a punching bag up and down a hill. When Jen came to tell me, I figured I would try to do the attempt in his memory. So, I started training with the punching bag a little more seriously. I talked about my idea with another Phys Ed teacher at Towson. She had tears in her eyes when I told her.
But I was in for a surprise. The record had been beaten again! This time by some guy on a running team in Belgium, with a time of 11:29.
“What!?” I thought. “No way. That’s not possible. He had to have cheated.” But by that time I was already down in the 13 and 14 minute range. So, I figured I would keep training. Maybe, just maybe I could get down that low.
I started trying to carry Jen more, and began carrying her two youngest brothers every once in a while. I was so blessed when I was able to start carrying her brothers’ friend, Daniel. I would get back cramps every so often from carrying the bag, but that first time I carried him for probably a little more than a mile, gave me some serious back cramps. I remember lying on the deck at Jen’s parents’ house, massaging my back on the edge of a board that was a little warped. Daniel was so willing to help and I am so blessed to have a friend like him.
Let me tell you people, getting carried sucks. Jen can attest to that. There have been times where she would get bruises. One time, a day after I carried her, she said her chest hurt a little when she breathed. I felt so bad. I felt like I abused my wife. For what? How selfish. So, I had to start carrying her in short increments. Some days I would carry her, some days I would carry Daniel, and the days in between I would carry the punching bag. But for about 3 months I would carry Daniel at least once a week. He was the perfect training partner. One of the hardest parts of training is to find a partner that is just barely greater in weight, has a schedule where they can workout with you, and is
dumb enough, I mean selfless enough to help by being carried.
Eventually I got my time down to 13 minutes. Then 12 minutes. Then 11:30. Then 10:45. I couldn’t believe it. I contacted GWR and read through pages and pages of rules and guidelines for breaking a record and submitting the evidence. I set a date and invited the teacher I had told. Another hard part of this whole process was finding a venue, and witnesses and timekeepers. Finally, everything was set, and I did my attempt at a high school track. I ran a 10:29. I had done it. Jen and I were ready to go back to our normal lives. Well, we still had a normal life. It wasn’t like that was the only thing I did. I also had about 4 part time jobs at the time, and was in school. I even had to go work on a farm later that day that I broke the record. So, I always feel conflicted when people tell me they are too busy to workout.
A couple weeks later, one of my witnesses, who is a track coach, sent me an email. “Hey Bret. I’ve been thinking that maybe the track at Hereford is a metric track, and therefore 4 times around is only 1600 meters, and not an exact mile.
My eyes got big. “What the heck is he talking about? 4 times around a track isn’t a mile? You couldn’t tell me that before?” My fingers were flying as I went to Google and searched for exactly how many meters are in a mile. My heart sank as I read 1609.344 meters. I had ran 9.344 meters too short. About 10 steps. I couldn’t believe it.
At first I was angry with myself for forgetting that. As a kid, I knew there were different tracks. Then I began to get angry with God. “Why is this happening? What was the point? Was it all a waste?” I felt like I failed everyone who came to watch. I felt like I failed the professor I had dedicated the attempt to. I felt like I failed my parents. Yet I knew that my professor would probably tell me to get back up and try again.
I told my dad I was thinking about trying it again, but maybe this time I would dedicate it to God. He is the one who gave me these desires. He is the one who gave me a dad that trained me the way he did. He is the one who gave me the health to run. Yet I had completely forgot to involve him in the process the first time. This time it would be different. I began thinking that maybe this time I could even do the attempt in California, so that my family could watch. I began training again.
After only a month out of practice, my time was back up in the 12-13 minute range. Now I needed to find a new training partner. I really didn’t want to ask Daniel to help again. He had helped so much before, and I felt like I let him down too. In another post I talked about wanting to have other men in my life that I could get closer to. One way God answered this prayer was through Jen’s youngest brother Joseph. I began carrying him mostly. I would carry her other brothers, family friends, Jen, but the person I mainly carried was Joseph. God blessed me so much with this brother in law that was so willing to help.
For about 7 months I carried him. Eventually I was carrying him once or twice a week. During a time that Jen and I were house-sitting for some friends, I took the punching bag with me, stepped out the distance around the perimeter of their basement, and ran around 32 times, if I remember correctly. How humorous I thought. Or stupid. Or dedicated. I am so thankful for the influence of my professor, and how my dad trained me as I was growing up.
Joseph and I continued training. At 5 in the morning, still dark, we would stumble out of bed and drive bleary eyed to the track. He would shine his phone onto the track as we did a warm up lap. Then I would stretch for about a minute, or however long it took him to take off his outer layers and strap on 4 wrist weights, each weighing 5 pounds. Then we would start. We ran in the dark. In the rain. In the fog. In the wind. I think the coldest weather we ran in was 13 degrees, 9 degrees with the wind chill. I had to do it in my biking shorts and a t-shirt. Why? I had to know I could do it. I knew California wouldn’t be that cold, so if I could run at 5:30am, in the dark, in 9 degrees, with 1 minute of stretching, I could run in California in 30 degrees, at 9:00am, in the light, with a few minutes of stretching instead. When you read that, you may think I’m crazy. But really think about Joseph. What in the world would possess someone to do that? I can only see it as evidence of God’s grace in my life. I am so thankful for my brother in law. I have tried to return that love and selflessness by taking him longboarding, or discussing and praying for things he is dealing with. Or just get him a sub at Subway.
That year of training was a real journey for me. I was constantly sick. I had a heel injury from something separate, knee pains, ankle pains, and constant tightness or cramps in my back. One day, when there was snow outside, I carried the bag on the treadmill. Afterwards, my back started to cramp. I tried to stretch then lay down to try to relax it. Bad idea. I couldn’t get up. It got worse. It eventually got to where if I breathed too fast, it would spasm. Jen had to roll me from my side, onto my back, so I could be a little more comfortable.
Another time, I started suffering from burnout. I was just physically and emotionally exhausted. One reason this has been so difficult is that there is no manual or advice on how to train for something like this. If you want to know how to train for a marathon, you can look online. Want to know how to train for a 5k, look online. Want to know a weightlifting routine, look online. But carrying someone heavier than you, for a mile, you’re on your own. It has been trial and error. How heavy? How often? How far? How much rest? I had found out what my limits were. I had to take a few weeks off. But I couldn’t take too much off. I had planned that I would do the attempt in California, over Christmas break. But now I knew how I had trained the previous year, and how much I had trained to get burned out. I had to do it so that I could hit the peak of what I could handle, right around the attempt.
The most important time of this whole process came one day when I was mad that I couldn’t carry Joseph that day. I was complaining about the situation, and if I should do the attempt or not, and why it was so hard to hear what God was telling me, and really just whining. Jen said in a gentle but straight-forward tone, “I don’t think it matters if you do it or not, though I think you should do it. But I think that what really matters is your heart, and how you do it. And your heart isn’t right.”
She was correct. I just sat there, assessing my heart. I told her she was right. I really gave it back to God that night. That was a breakthrough for me, as was the next morning. As my time had dropped, and got into the 11 and 10 minute range, I had always wondered if 10 minutes was possible. I knew it had to be. That next morning, I finally broke 10 minutes. I had trained for about 21 months and had finally broken a major goal. I knew I had broken the world record, but I wanted to know if it was humanly possible for me to break 10 minutes. I didn’t even fall down from exhaustion as I usually do. I just stood there after I set Joseph down. Fists clenched, yelling at the top of my lungs, in the dark, at 5:45 in the morning. It was awesome. After that, I consistently broke 10 minutes, even getting down to 9:42. I was finally really confident.
The next few months leading up to my second attempt were still a process of giving everything about the record to God, then taking it back, but it was better than it had been before. I still continuously struggled with not letting the record become an idol. I still also had to continuously check that I was not letting it take precedence over my relationship with Jen. But Jen knew I was trying, and she was so gracious and selfless during that time.
One silver lining to the cloud of not being successful the first time was that I was able to do my 2nd attempt in California with my family. But it gets better. About 6 months before, after not being able to decide who I would be able to carry, I decided maybe I could carry my dad. I talked to him about it, and found that he was only about 10 pounds heavier than I am. He said he would start training. Now if you think my training was ridiculous, just imagine, here is a 67 year old man, trying to train for a world record, to be carried, and he couldn’t even train with me. So, I shamelessly recruited my brother to carry my dad around the house. They would do this for longer and longer increments, so that my dad could get used to it. To train in less than optimal ways, so that he could be ready for however it would be with my shoulders digging into him, he would hang on the side of the bed of his truck, or on a branch, adjusting, moving, and increasing the length of time he would hold. God loves working in less than ideal circumstances. How much more is the praise, than if He gets us through situations that are seamless, perfect, and don’t even require us to ask for His help.
I am also blessed that one of my sisters really helped with the preparations, since I was here in Maryland. She contacted a university there in California to get permission to use the track, and contacted witnesses and timekeepers that I could use. She would write out lists of things she needed to do, and even remind me of things I had previously told her, that I had forgot.
Because of the time that I had off during Christmas break, we realized that I would only have enough time to practice with my dad, one time. Then I would need a few days to recover, before the actual attempt. If for some reason the attempt did not work or the weather was bad enough, we had enough time for a back up date, a few days later so that I could rest again. That was it. Additionally, it meant that I would have to carry my dad for that first and only practice, immediately after getting off the plane from flying all day. Talk about not ideal.
Christmas break came, and Jen and I flew in to California. That was a somewhat restless day. Here I was, only a few days from my 2nd world record attempt, and I could feel my fatigue, jet lag, nervousness, lack of sleep (I think it was about 4 hours that night). To top it all off, I still had to do my one practice with my dad.
After my parents picked us up from the airport, we drove 10 minutes to a local high school to do our practice. We got to the track with just a little daylight left, measured out the mile, stretched a little, then he jumped up on my back and we got started. It didn’t go that well.
My dad just wasn’t positioned correctly. He kept sliding down my back, somewhat pulling my torso backwards. He felt heavy. I felt tired. It was on a different track. He was different than the training partner that I had been using for 7 months. That was one of the most tiring carries I have done, but we ended up running a 10:45. Faster than the record, but over a minute slower than my best time with Joseph.
After we caught our breath, and slowly walked to the car, we discussed what was wrong. He had not placed one of his hands correctly on my back. I was so tired while running, that I didn’t want to stop to correct him. I know it sounds weird, but it can be sometimes almost too much energy to even just say a word. And I just wanted it done. When I would carry Jen, she would sometimes just smack her lips together, to make a kissing sound, to say she loved me. I would be so tired that I would just say, “Shhh.” I know that sounds mean, but it was like thinking about returning that act, or even saying, “love,” even just registering what she said and thinking about it, would seem like it would take way too much energy.
So after that run, my dad and I practiced the method I was used to. It felt so much better for both of us. He was shocked at how much more comfortable it felt. We were both so relieved. We set back on the road to go to their house, knowing we didn’t have another chance to practice, without allowing me adequate time to recover, but still very optimistic that we could do it.
When the day came, everything leading up to it went smoothly. I had plenty of sleep. We had all the equipment, and even though some witnesses did not show up, enough did so that we met the requirement by GWR. I was also able to have more than adequate video coverage. I think there were 5 different cameras set up. My sister helped manage the whole process, so that my dad and I could just prepare. The campus security even used their golf cart to go around the track with me, so that we could have smooth video. Talk about finding favor in other peoples’ eyes.
When the time came, my dad and I jumped on the scales. He was only 2 pounds heavier than I. Awesome. Not too close, but not too much heavier that I would be carrying a lot extra. After a practice start for my timekeepers, and a short prayer with my dad, sister and Jen, he jumped up on my back and we stepped up to the line.
The horn went off and I started running. I quickly made some small adjustments to how my dad was positioned, using just enough breath and energy to tell him, “Move your hand down. There. Hold tighter. A little looser.” He was set. That first lap flew by. But just before the end of it, I shuffled my dad a little and felt a muscle quickly tighten in my back. “Oh crap!” I try to lean just a little to stretch it. “Nope. Won’t work. You have got to be kidding. Maybe it will go away. Sometimes they do.” That lap, I had felt like I was going slow, but I ran it in 2:08. Way too fast. About 15 seconds faster than I usually would. I had to slow down.
I did slow down, but half way through the 2nd lap, I knew I was feeling very tired. That was always the first hard mental point, because I would know that I wasn’t even half way through, and it wasn’t going to get any better. But I expected those thoughts. I had prepared for them. I had practiced internally encouraging myself. I asked God to make me as strong as I needed to be. I told Him that I was doing what I loved to do. I was moving. What could he do through me? What could the human body do? What could I do? I told myself it was normal to feel tired at this point. But I also knew that I was a little more tired because of running faster on that first lap. Couple that with knowing that this was really only the first time my dad and I had got to run the way that we felt comfortable, and that the cramp in my back was getting worse, and the internal battle begun. It was just as hard as the physical battle.
The third lap is always a blur. “I’m tired. Just one more lap after this. Every second I get closer. Every step I get closer. Need to speed up. Not too fast. I can do this. Man I’m tired. What the heck am I doing? Man I’m an idiot. Am I just a glutton for punishment? What is wrong with me? This is awesome. I could do something no one has ever done. Keep going. Keep going.”
The fourth lap began and my legs were feeling heavy. It was hard to breath. Yes I only had 1 lap to go, but it was a whole third of the three laps I had already done? I am always thinking while I am exercising. Not just about how tired I am or how my form is, but doing math to see how much longer I have to go.
“Coming up on 1/8 of the way through the last lap. That is 25 out of 32.” As soon as I figure that out, I am coming up on ¼ of the way through the last lap. “OK, that’s 13/16.” I picture in my mind how far I am around the track, from an above view. “How many seconds did that last ¼ of a lap take? I started the lap at 7:30, and now it is 8:15. That’s 45 seconds! Dang it. Should have been 37 seconds. Need to speed up. So tired. I can make it without putting him down, but I probably won’t beat 10 minutes. Ok then Bret, you can still beat your time from the first attempt.”
Half way through the last lap, my time was 9:00. It should have been 8:45. I had to do the next half just as fast, to match my previous attempt, but I was so tired that I had been slowing down. Now I needed to maintain. “Here we go Bret. Every run you’ve ever done. Every time your dad took you to practice. Every work out you’ve done. Did you expect it to be easy? Keep moving.” Step step step. Back aching, I shuffle my dad a little, and almost stumble. “Woah. Can’t do that. Have to deal with it. Just under half a lap. Legs aren’t working properly. So stiff! Will your legs to move Bret. Move. Move! Keep going. Keep going. You can rest for the rest of your life. Stop whining. Man up.”
Coming up on the last quarter of the last lap. My time was around 9:40. I had sped up by about 5 seconds. “Ok Bret. Keep going. Speed up more. There you go! Just a little. Legs aren’t moving right, but keep going. Back is numb from the pain. Rest later. You can make it to the finish. Hold that pace. Hold. Breathe. Keep going.”
The people cheering were a muffled sound. “Was that my sister?” “That was my nieces voice.”
“C’mon Uncle B.”
Then I heard my dad. “All the way to the second line Bret.”
I pushed through and crossed the finish. I set my dad down as gently as I could, with the little energy I had, legs still not moving how I want them to.
Someone yelled, “10:21:71.”
I had done it. I had even beat the time from my previous attempt. Not 10 minutes, but I was OK with that. My dad and I both just laid there. Breathing. Done. I felt someone grab my hand. “Is that dad’s hand? Maybe. Man I’m tired.”
Eventually we got up to weigh ourselves again. I had lost half a pound. My dad got on the scale and he had supposedly gained half a pound. Someone joked that he must have been carrying a doughnut up on my shoulders. I agreed.
After my sister helped me through thanking everyone and talking a little about the experience, we cleaned up and went home. I enjoyed eating foods I had been abstaining from for months. I enjoyed the rest of the time during our vacation with my family. Not a worry in the world. It was done. Jen and I were so happy. I was so happy to have done it with my dad. I was happy to have broken the record. We were ready to get back to our normal lives. Whether it was made official or not, we were done.
We are waiting on some paperwork from the university, before we send everything to GWR. At this point, I am content not even sending anything. I know I have done it. But I have to. So many people helped me along the way. Whether it is ever made official or not, I know I have done it. It has been an amazing experience. One of growth, struggle, doubt, fear, anger, weariness, and joy. One of so many people showing love for me in different ways.
What about you? You don’t have to do something extraordinary. Just do something with what God gave you.