The Hatfield and McCoy Marathon: No Feudin’, Just Running!

The Historic Feud: Family, Honor, Justice, Revenge and a Vicious 26.2

The Hatfields and McCoys. Mere mention of their names stirs up visions of a lawless and unrelenting family feud that would span generations. The Hatfield-McCoy Marathon lived up to its reputation of being the Weather Channels “15 toughest marathons in the world.” Why?

100+ degree temperatures, winding hills for days in the Appalachian Mountains, the historic family feud rivalry that permeates every part of this route as runners crisscross between the Kentucky-West Virginia state lines! Oh, and the option to run a Double Half Marathon was too unique an opportunity to bypass (more on this shortly).

The Choices

Runners had 3 options: a half marathon, a full marathon and what race director Shawn Cool (yes that is his name, and yes, he lives up to the billing) call the Double Half Marathon. You are likely thinking the exact same question I did when I asked Shawn “Is a double half marathon not the same exact thing as a full marathon?” Answer: not exactly. The double half marathon are two back-to-back 13.1 mile races with two separate start and finish lines. The first half marathon starts in Kentucky and runners have 3 hours to finish the race. IF you finish any time before the 3 hour time limit, you earn a break (finish in 2 hours, 30 mins = 30 min rest period).

The second 13.1 miles begins in West Virginia.

Family representatives of the McCoy's and Hatfield;s made it difficult to choose sides!

Family representatives of the McCoy’s and Hatfield;s made it difficult to choose sides!

Round 1 – 13.1 miles, Kentucky, Temp: 65-85 degrees (2:29:21)
This was one of the first races that started with the firing of a real gun…and it was from both the Hatfield and McCoy representatives! We started in Kentucky and made our way through the heart of Feud Country (Miles 1 -6). We ran past the Randolph McCoy home place site and the graveyard where several of the McCoy’s were buried after they were tied to pawpaw trees and shot by the Hatfield’s. Six years later, The New Year’s Night Massacre occurred were the McCoy cabin was surrounded and attacked by Hatfield’s.

After passing these historic sites, you reach Mile 7 and run into the infamous Blackberry Mountain, a mere 30-degree incline spanning a full mile to the top. The elevation of these Appalachian hills are magnificent, and over the next 6 miles, this was a consistent theme with epic views of the countryside.Approaching my first finish line, I crossed into Matewan, West Virginia. With a rare 30-minute break, I assumed this would only be a positive; however, my plan and reality did not exactly match up.

Relaxing for 30 minutes at the halfway point and soaking in the historic scenery

Relaxing for 30 minutes at the halfway point and soaking in the historic scenery

Round 2 – 13.1 miles again, West Virginia, Temp: 85-105 degrees (3:14:30 mins)
I hydrated, stretched, ate several bananas and remained standing in the shade doing everything possible to avoid stiffing and cramping up. As soon as the second half marathon began, I ran 500 feet and felt both calves cramp up. NO! Cramps have followed me all my life in most races, but usually closer to the finish line. With 13.1 ahead, I ran through them and thankfully they went away by Mile 14. Unfortunately, at Mile 17, they returned in full force, but only because of “The Incident.”

After running up and down endless hills through muddy and rocky terrain, I came around a bend to find a woman shrieking on the ground as she held onto her unbelievably cramped calves. She was dehydrated, scared and in cringing pain. She was unable to put any weight on her feet and asked “Can you just carry me up the hill?” I have been in this type of pain before (Mile 24 during the Great Wall of China Marathon) and could empathize. I lifted her onto my back and proceeded to carry her several hundred feet up the muddy hill. Full disclosure, I attempted to film this because I thought it would make an epic video, but she was none too pleased, so I put my phone away and after 30-feet of walking, my calves cramped, and cramped badly! Eventually, we got to the top of the hill and a medical tent was within sight; I never saw her again but assume she received the proper attention.

Over the next 9 miles, I ran alongside rivers, over bridges and through coal mining areas. At Mile 20, I literally paused to get hosed down by some friendly supporters who mentioned the temperature was currently showing 101. At Mile 23, a couple cops were cheering on runners when I decided to stop and grab a picture. Needless to say, they wanted to have a little fun and handcuffed me! They asked which family I supported (we have to choose before the race). I chose McCoy’s because they are a bit more controversial.

After hearing my response, the cop said, “That was the right choice!”

After hearing my response, the cop said, “That was the right choice!”

With a combined time of 5:43:51, I felt that I earned every mile of this challenging race. was beyond exhausted and craving two things: an ice bath and moonshine.

Seeing my McCoy representative waiting at the finish line was pretty invigorating!

Seeing my McCoy representative waiting at the finish line was pretty invigorating!

Red Bull's 8 finisher medals you need in your collection

Red Bull’s 8 finisher medals you need in your collection

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How the Love of Music and Alzheimer’s Connected Over 130 People Together

 3 Total Strangers Found a Way

All funds raised went directly to Northwestern University's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center

All contributions went directly to Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Imagine losing your mom. Now imagine losing your mom and your partner’s mom in the same year due to Alzheimer’s. This is how I was introduced to Susan Hilger and Tim Minkkinen, owners of Tahti Guitars in Charlotte, North Carolina. We spoke on the phone for about an hour and their goal was simple: they wanted a partner to help raise Alzheimer’s awareness and funds in honor of their beloved mothers named Marie & Helen.

Every year, Tahti Guitars designs and creates a handcrafted guitar to donate to a charity of their choice; and this year, Susan and Tim chose Run4Papa as the beneficiary with a goal of raising $7,500 for Alzheimer’s research (the exact value of the guitar). Tim built the “Marie-Helen” acoustic guitar which is a modern interpretation of a decades old American parlor guitar. These small guitars continue to gain popularity due to their ease of play, full sound and beautiful vintage tone. To see the evolution of pics, click here.

Over a 60-day period, Tim and Susan shared pictures of Marie-Helen on social media allowing our network of supporters to track its progress.

Over a 60-day period, Tim and Susan shared pictures of Marie-Helen on social media allowing our network of supporters to track its progress.

Besides being two of the kindest and most chilled people I have met in a long time, Susan and Tim share a mutually strong passion to bring more awareness and attention to Alzheimer’s  while helping move the needle toward a cure. In two months, we ended up receiving over 130 individual donations from people around the world!

On March 26, we came together for a live drawing of the winner on Periscope.

Tim presented the Marie-Helen guitar and we listened for hours as it was played in front of us.

Tim presented the Marie-Helen guitar and we listened for hours as it was played in front of us.

With over 200 raffle tickets in our pot, Tom and Marianne Ludwig were picked and became proud owners of Marie-Helen. This was bittersweet for us because Marianne’s father was diagnosed and sadly passed away from Alzheimer’s. “My father was known as the world’s best hugger,” said Marianne. “Forget Tim’s incredible talent alone, this guitar is extra special and made with love.”

In a beautiful plot twist, their 10-year-old granddaughter, Natalie, recently learned to play guitar a couple months ago. This made gifting Marie-Helen to Natalie an easy choice for the Ludwig’s and she  wasted no time in showcasing her newly found talent!


R4P Runs 104 Stories at World Trade One for the First Responders of 9/11

 Running UP the Tallest Building in the Western Hemisphere

Honored to receive this medal

Honored to receive this medal

Every once in a while something very important comes along which enables Run4Papa to support other worthy causes and this is one of them. The Siller Family started the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to honor the memory of their brother, Stephen, a New York City firefighter (FDNY) who lost his life on September 11, 2001 after strapping on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.

The Goal: To run up 104 flights of stairs at One World Trade Center (2,226 Steps to Never Forget)
Number of Runners: 1,000
The Benefit: ALL contributions for this event go to help create home modifications for the first responders who were most severely injured serving our country in the line of duty and scholarships to firefighters.

On September 11, 2001, I was a college senior and recall watching the towers fall on TV from my apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Like so many, I was in shock and my heart ached for the people who lost their lives that day, their family and friends, and all of the first responders, like Stephen, who selflessly ran into the twin towers without hesitation.

15 years later, standing in line outside One World Trade Center stirred up a whirlwind of emotions. Runners like myself had their own reasons to participate: they lost loved on 9/11, one of their family members currently served on the NYPD or FDNY, they knew first responders of 9/11 who were disabled and needed help ASAP, they wanted to challenge their bodies and pay it forward. Any reason seemed like a valid one to me.

I wanted to help raise money and be a part of this moment: to add this important cause and memory to a growing list of choices in my life.

My gear for the race

My gear for the race

For security purposes, no technology of any kind was allowed inside the building: no smartphones, Go Pro’s, watches, music or anything of the sort…just a driver’s license, your bib number and the sounds of footsteps up each flight. Every 15 seconds, a new runner began the trek up 104 flights.

29 minutes and 23 seconds later, I reached the observatory but it was the run up that stairwell which will last a lifetime. Yes it was challenging, and yes it was hot, but I couldn’t help thinking about the Siller Family and so many others directly impacted by the events of 9/11. 20, 50, 85, 100+ floors seemed like nothing compared to what firefighters did on that fateful day running into the twin towers with 75 lbs of gear up stairwells with smoke and fire at every corner trying to save as many lives as possible.

I know this race was controversial for some New Yorkers. From my perspective, anytime you can bring a collection of runners together who are willing to help others in this world, an event like this is not only necessary, but an honor and privilege to run, support and give back.

When it was all said and done, over $300,000 was raised on Sunday, May 15, 2016. $300,000. 104 flights was the final destination. Each step was a step for someone in need of our help. With only 1,000 spots available, I was proud to occupy one of them.

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The 2016 Antarctica Marathon

Running a Marathon at the End of the World

Nervous Energy. As a veteran of nine marathons, I have experienced plenty in my racing days: showing up having not trained for London, ascending and descending 5,164 steps on the Great Wall of China, being stopped at mile 25.8 in Boston due to the bombings, running in ankle deep sand in South Africa on an open animal reserve, fighting through a monsoon in Rio and trekking through the red clay in the Outback. Yet nothing could prepare me for the ever-present nervous energy for the Antarctica Marathon and this is why:

  • The waitlist averages 3-6 years
  • The Drake Passage – 48 hours of 20-40 foot waves and gale force winds
  • The unknown variable of the weather on race day
  • The cutoff time – 6 hrs and 30 mins – could be shortened at any point due to weather conditions
  • Oh…and the location – the end of the world!
Preparing to run on continent #6 with my good friend Alex Turoff

Preparing to run on continent #6 with my good
friend Alex Turoff

The Course: 6 loops end-to-end through snow, mud, rocks, hills, and ever changing winds off the coast.

The Spectators: Some friendly penguins, my fellow runners and the race and expedition staff.

The Pressure: The 6th continent for R4P and the 7th in my lifetime (ran London Marathon in 2000). Time to complete the race: 6 hrs 30 mins

When you come this far, there is only one acceptable result: finish, capture plenty of video and photos for the cause, and enjoy every moment.

Loop 1 (Miles 1 – 4.37): Ready. Set. Keep Moving! Sunny, 30 degrees, 5-10 mph winds and 3 penguins – 40 minutes

With a combined 11 layers on my body, I crossed the 2016 Antarctica Marathon start line with 101 of my fellow runners. To my left, three penguins perplexingly stared at us humans about to embark on 26.2 miles ahead. The first mile ran past a couple of research bases, wrapped around an inclined hill leading along a muddy path which merged into a larger hill. As I approached mile 1.2, I left one of my water bottles in the “drop zone,” because there are no water stations in this race. You leave your drinks of choice at the start/finish line and you drop whatever you want off in this area.

At the top of the “drop zone” peak, I looped down a 500 foot descent that led to a very long and winding path which was blanketed by rocks for a good mile. Believe it or not, I was actually getting warm because the sun was out and I clearly had on too many layers. Twenty minutes into the race, I reached the first half end of the first loop where a staff member was holding a sign that read “China – Turn Around.”

The turnaround point referencing the Chinese research base in the distance.

The turnaround point referencing the Chinese
research base in the distance.

Turn around!? In most races, you run from point A to point B where everything is fresh and nothing is repeated. I don’t like knowing what is ahead of me, and psychologically, this race was the exact opposite. I ran back through the rocks, up the now ascending 500 foot hill, past the water bottle drop off and back to the starting line. I removed three layers, sipped some chilled Gatorade and proceeded out for the start of loop two.

Loops 2 & 3 (Miles 4.37 – 13.1): Overcast, 10-20 degrees, 10-25 mph winds, 0 penguins. Floating ice in the distance – 1 hour 35 mins

Loops two and three were not as easy as loop one. The sun vanished and the wind fluctuated between 10-25 mph. Being totally exposed to the elements, I focused my attention and energy on completing loop two, added a layer since the temperature dropped by 10 degrees, sipped some Gatorade and proceeded on the same exact route I had run twice beforehand.

he course began to get more treacherous with every additional mile as I trekked from the thick mud toward the slippery uneven rocks.

he course began to get more treacherous with every additional mile as I trekked from the thick mud toward the slippery uneven rocks.

The halfway cut-off time of 3 hrs 10 mins was deeply branded in every single marathoners mind. I talked about it on the plane from the U.S. to Argentina with a stranger (thank you kind sir for putting up with me), at the banquet dinner in Buenos Aires, at breakfast, lunch and dinner on the Drake Passage, with the staff and possibly even a penguin or two. With the weather being so unpredictable, I was not going to take any chances.

Loop three took my mind away from the elements on the ground and I focused my attention on the extraordinary glaciers in the distance along with majestically floating patches of ice in the foreground. The skies were getting thicker with cloud coverage and the winds were clearly picking up and smacking our bodies around like penguins running away from fur seals.  As I approached the start/finish line, I breathed a big sigh of relief: 13.1 miles in the books in 2 hrs 30 mins. Two more layers were added to my body.

Loops 4-5 (Miles 13.1-21.84): Freezing rain, 35-45 mph winds, penguins (possibly), numb fingers (most definitely) – 2 hour 9 mins

The backend of a marathon is never easy. Between flying halfway around the world, having a queasy stomach (cheers Drake Passage), running 13.1 miles thus far and knowing the weather conditions would not improve, I couldn’t have been in a more ideal situation.

This. Is. Living.

A family of penguins takes notice of us runners.

A family of penguins takes notice of us runners.

Was I cold and slightly, YES! I could barely feel my fingertips and the reason I know this is because I pulled off my mittens and removed the thin gloves from my red clearly numb fingers. Every time a staff member would ask me how I was doing, I would instantly reply before they finished the question “I am good! I came here to finish.”

To be fair, during these two hours, I refused to let any type of doubt creep into my mind. I literally mumbled 300+ times during this race “You know, you are never coming back to run this race again, right?”  A good number of people already dropped down from the full marathon to the half.

My body wanted to pause at times, but my mind refused. I knew pausing meant slowing down. Slowing down meant my body temperature dropping. My body temperature dropping meant I might not run the pace I needed which mentally would lead down a treacherous road. I kept my head down and my mind focused on loop six which ended up being the sweetest 4.37 miles of my life!

Loop 6  (Miles 21.84-26.2): 20-30 mph winds, penguins (left a long time ago), heart still beating, and a finish line to cross – 2 hrs 2 mins

My feet were sore, my face was cold, I had ALL my layers on and approximately 23,000 steps was between me and the finish line. Being on this continent allowed me to run alongside some of the best runners on the globe in a place that fewer than 2,000 people have ever attempted to run a race. For crying out loud, this is Antarctica! A place that offers endless panoramic views of glaciers, floating icebergs, penguins, seals, whales, picture perfect sunsets and sunrises and the purest form of escape. With all this floating around my head, I crossed the halfway point of loop six.

One of hundreds of floating glaciers in Antarctica

One of hundreds of floating icebergs in Antarctica

As I made my way back toward the finish line, I stopped at mile 25 and began walking. I could have easily kept running, but I didn’t want this experience to end. I thought about how much transpired since I first started this journey in 2010 which has literally taken me all around the world. The goal initially was to figure out a way to raise dementia awareness and funds by running races. I needed a name, a website, a research partner and actual supporters to believe in this cause.

And as I walked up to mile 26, I zen’d out on my back. Yes I sat down, closed my eyes all the while runners passed me by and asked if I was okay. I was more than okay.

Five minutes later, I jumped to my feet and crossed that finish line with at 6:11:18 a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment.

What began as an idea has transformed into a living dream that has exceeded all my expectations.

What began as an idea has transformed into a living dream that has exceeded all my expectations.

Of course, I wasn’t going to leave that continent without the most refreshing ice bath on the planet!

The coldest polar plunge on the planet!

The coldest polar plunge on any continent – slightly above freezing.

I have been asked at least several hundred times already “so what is next?”

My answer: Athens, Greece of course! And what better venue then where the marathon originated to run my 7th continent for R4P.

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2015 Chicago Marathon

How to Run 26.2 Miles with Leg Cramps


On race day, 1.7 million spectators came to watch over 45,000 runners treat themselves to a 26.2-mile tour of diverse cultures, historic buildings and residences, renowned architecture, vibrant murals and the mouth-watering scents of some of the best dining in the world. Known as a “major” in the marathon world (other majors include Berlin Boston, NYC, London, and Tokyo), this unique race takes runners through 29 different neighborhoods in the Windy City.

In past years, runners could participate in the Chicago Marathon on a first come, first serve basis before all 45,000 spots were filled. However, due to increasingly high demand, all interested runners were required to register online and wait until the April 28, 2015  lottery. On the 28th, all registered runners would either receive a confirmation email or the dreaded “wait until next year” notification. After registering, I convinced my good friend at Northwestern Medicine, Kevin, to register. He was one of the first people to listen to my Run4Papa pitch back in August of 2010, and has been advocating for my efforts ever since.

The experiment was set in motion: local Chicagoan + rookie marathon experience = ideal opportunity to run together to raise Alzheimer’s and other related dementia awareness.  Honestly, what where the odds he and I would both win the lottery?

Apparently, 100%…

October 24: Starting Line at Grant Park, 65 degrees, 7:45 – 8:33 am

Like most race days, I tried my best to project a sense of calmness, not just for myself, but also for my first-time rookie marathoner. I kept telling him since April 28, 2015, he was going to finish this race and there would be no other ending then him and I crossing the finish line.  More than anything, I believe that all races are 80% mental, 20% physical. For me, that has always held true…until today.

Kevin and I patiently waited as we inched our way to the start line.

Kevin and I patiently waited as we inched our way to the start line.

Mile 1.5 – State Street, 66 degrees, 8:51 am
Considering it was the middle of October, you might think that the weather would be cold and windy; however, it was 63 degrees and rising! As Kevin and I made our way onto Grand Ave., my parents were cheering us on as we rounded the corner heading toward the historic State Street and the Chicago Theatre. As runners, we feed off that adrenaline shot of support whether it’s at mile 1.5 or 25.5.

IMG_8568Mile 3 – The Loop, 67 degrees, 9:09 am
The spectators of Chicago made their presence known by lining the streets, producing some of the most original signage at a race. One of many benefits to capturing video and pictures of these races for Run4Papa is intentionally taking time to soak in the moment. To complete 26.2 miles is an accomplishment onto its own, but to be able to truly capture the race in its most pure form along the way, is utterly priceless.

Miles 6-12 – Old Town, Lincoln Park & Lakeview, 70 degrees, 9:49-11:07 am
We began to get into a groove. As we passed mile marker after mile marker, we would look at one another, (say nothing), fist bump and carry onward. With almost a quarter of the race completed, we were riding the Chicago heat wave as the temperature rose to 67 degrees. That is, until Mile 12 came along.

Mile 12.1-15 – River North, 73 degrees, 11:07:01-11:51 am
Cramps. Both calves. Seemingly out of nowhere. I have cramped in races before, but NEVER this early.

  • Mile 20 – Boston Marathon on Heartbreak Hill
  • Mile 24 – Great Wall of China Marathon ascending and descending 5,164 steps
  • Mile 25 – The Outback Marathon through mounds of red clay
  • Mile 26.1 – Big 5 Marathon in South Africa on an animal reserve

But those were extreme races and late in the race. Mile 12.1! This was unacceptable. For the next mile, the cramps would come and go, but it didn’t feel like anything serious. At Mile 13, Kevin and I stopped at a medical aid station and I rubbed some extreme cooling gel on my calves. I thought (and hoped) the problem had been rectified.

Mile 15.1, West Loop & Greektown, 77 degrees, 11:51:01 am
Instantly, I could see a huge emotional and psychological lift Kevin received by running alongside his nephews for about .2 miles. He was running strongly and I insisted he not slow down because of my cramps. Initially, he pushed back and said “we will finish this race together.”  From my own experience, when you are running at a quality pace, the last thing you want to do (even if your heart is the right place), is slow down. In order to ensure he kept moving forward, I checked myself into a medical aid station, and wisely, off he ran.

Kevin and I ran into his brother, wife and two adorable nephews.

Kevin and I ran into his brother, wife and two adorable nephews.

Mile 15.5, Medical Tent, 60 degrees (in shade) 11:55 am – 12:10 pm
The medics were not overly complimentary to my situation. They bluntly informed me that my cramps were not going away and that it would be virtually impossible to finish the race with such severe cramping.  Although I have run races all over the world, you never know how your body is going to respond on race day. Today was no exception.

After 15 minutes of treatment, nothing changed besides the fact that I lost 15 minutes of race time. I thanked them for their treatment and advice but my heart would literally have to stop beating before me quitting a race ever becomes a reality.  10+ miles of extreme cramping was now my new reality.

So. Be. It.

Miles 15.5-20, Little Italy, University Village, & Pilsen, 79 degrees, 12:10-1:05 pm
This stretch was a challenging combination of jogging until the cramps became unbearable followed by walking for 30 seconds and then transitioning into a steady jog again. While it was tough running alone, I did have the support of tens of thousands of people I had never met in my lifetime cheering mile after mile. During the time-frame, I saw a war veteran with a prosthetic leg making his way along the course, a fireman running in full gear, and spoke with a man who lost his wife to early onset dementia for several miles. Despite the pain in my legs, there is never a shortage of inspiration along 26.2 miles, and like myself, most runners find a way.

Nothing was going to change from my body’s perspective so I wanted to take full advantage of the experience.

Nothing was going to change from my body’s perspective so I wanted to take full advantage of the experience.

Miles 21-23, Chinatown & Bridgeport, 83 degrees, 1:15-1:45 pm
I do not recall much of this stretch besides the fact that I was hitting a mental wall and my calves were rock solid full of cramps. I tried zoning out (which is something I never do), but the cramps had literally been going on for the past 10 miles and I had over three more to go! As I lifted my feet forward step-by-step, it felt like there were 10-pound weights attached to my ankles; however, when I glanced down, it was just my calves begging me to quit.

Mile 23-26, The Gap, South Commons, 85 degrees, 1:55-2:32 pm
I was exhausted and ready to push through to the finish line. As I gave my parents a final hug, I started to jog until my calves wouldn’t cooperate any longer.  Seconds later, I looked to my left and saw my father. He wasn’t behind the spectator railing, he was walking alongside me! I thought he was trying to give me a quick, emotional boost, but he ended up walking/jogging with me until Mile 26. Those three miles, 47 minutes and 15,840 feet with my father are a priceless memory I will cherish for a lifetime…

Seeing my parents cheering at Mile 23 was a huge emotional lift.

Seeing my parents cheering at Mile 23 was a huge emotional lift.

Mile 26-26.2, Grant Park, 85 degrees, 2:32-2:34:18 pm
My father was calmly asked to get back over to the spectator side of the race and I knew with .2 miles remaining, I was going to finish strong! After battling cramps for the past 13.1 miles, yours truly crossed the finish line at 6:00:48 (15 minutes after my good friend Kevin crossed the line!). While this was not my most impressive finishing time, I felt more proud of this completed effort than many prior races. Admittedly, this race might have been closer to 55% mental, 45% physical, but at the end of the day, I was determined to run against dementia and finish 26.2 miles in the Windy City.

Ice Bath, Château de Connolly, 32 degrees, 4:05-4:15 pm
4 bags of ice, freezing cold water…a perfect end to a long, long day at the Chicago Marathon.

Kevin and I showcasing the bling

Kevin and I showcasing the bling!

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