2017 Santa Hustle

It’s not just a race. It’s a magical experience.

Race #10- 10 for 10 Challenge: 10 Half Marathons in 10 Different States

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The Santa Hustle Smokies 5K & Half Marathon

Christmas came early this year in the racing world. More specifically, over 2,000 runners dressed up as Santa Claus to run through the streets of Sevierville, Tennessee, spreading the holiday spirit.

The race is modeled on the Santa Hustle 5K, which brings thousands of runners out onto the streets of Chicago each December, decked out in a red long-sleeve t-shirt designed to look like Santa’s coat, a Santa stocking cap (complete with puffy white ball at the end) and a white fluffy beard to wear throughout the race.

Runners and walkers start both the half marathon and the 5K on the grounds of the Wilderness at the Smokies Hotel & Waterpark Resort. From there, the race follows basically a long out-and-back route down the Winfield Dunn Parkway and Highway 441, southward all the way down to the race turnaround point.

Once runners reach the turnaround — the mid-way point of the half marathon — they make the turn and head back northward along Highway 441, all the way back up to the Wilderness at the Smokies Resort for the race finish. All along the way, the race course features the green hills and smoky haze that gives the “Smoky Mountains” their name, as runners make their way along the river valley carved by the Little Pigeon River.


  • Average temperature –low is 28°F and the high is 51°F. On this day, it was absolutely freezing with the temperature hovering in the mid 20’s. I sincerely regret not bringing gloves as my hands were down right numb until maybe miles five or six. I literally ran with my hands in my pockets for the better half of the first two miles.
  • 4 different race options:
    • Half Marathon Race start: 7:30 A.M., 3.5 hours
    • 5k Race Start: Approx. 7:45 A.M, no time limit
    • 1-Mile Kids Rudolph Run Race Start: 7:00 A.M.
    • 100-Yard Santa Sprint Start: 7:15 A.M.
  • Swag – all 5K and Half Marathon participants receive a Santa hat and beard, a Santa long sleeve shirt, candy cane socks and an impressive finisher medal. I am seriously considering wearing more types of costumes for future R4P races in 2018 and beyond!

    Who wore it better folks?

  • The course – as stated above, the course is pretty much a down and back  on a highway. There isn’t much to see on the route with the exception of a few random architectural visuals (see video. Nevertheless, the signage at each and every mile was downright hysterical! For this reason alone, I kept looking forward to each mile marker, similar to the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon I ran earlier in the year.

    Funny signage all throughout the course.

  • The bling – is downright impressive for both race categories and arguably more visually appealing than some of the marathons medals I received over the years. You will not go home thinking “Man, this race director was tight on his/her budget with the bling.”

    Two very BLINGY ornaments for the Christmas tree.

Thinking about sticking around for a day or two? You might want to consider:

  • Foodies spotsGrape Xpectations and the Chop House. Both are literally side-by-side each other and absolutely worth your time for a pit stop. The owners of Grape Xpectations are super friendly, inviting, and eager to allow you to sample anything first… or you could just get the wine flight and sample 3 at once, like we did! The Toasty Bites (we tried 4 of them) were amazing and complimented their wine offerings. I’d recommend the homemade spiced wine in the winter. As for the Chop House, how can you go wrong with this type of food!

    Top left: chunks of ahi tuna. Top right: lobster bisque. Bottom left: Sirloin steak with horseradish dipping sauce. Bottom right: filet mignon with crusted horseradish sauce.

  • Dollywood Parade of Christmas Lights -the Parade of Many Colors includes vibrant floats, interactive characters and a number of other surprises sure to inspire guests with its heart-warming message.
  • Smokey Mountain Winterfest Christmas Lights Showwith more than 15 million lights in a 25 mile stretch, cars literally lined up for tens of miles to take their family and friends through this show.

    Christmas lights as for as your eyes can see!

If you are a Christmas lover, enjoy overplayed holiday music, and devouring candy and cookies, then grab your favorite friends and family and head to the Volunteer state for an early Christmas treat from Santa and his elves.

R4P, the GF and #SirMaxell wrapping up a year together of 10 half marathons in 10 different states.

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!


My 2014 Rio Marathon Experience

Racing in the Rain at the Rio Marathon

Receiving the support from my niece Danya before my trip provided an extra incentive during this race.

My one week old niece Danya providing an added boost of encouragement before leaving for Rio.

Considered to be one of the top-guns on the international calendar, the Rio Marathon is host to some of the world’s best athletes as they come together in a bid to soak in the atmosphere of the race as well as of the beautiful city that is Rio de Janeiro. #ComingForYouRio

Standing at the starting line, I knew this would be the fourth continent (previously North America, Africa, and Asia) I could proactively tackle to  run against dementia. Brazil was on my radar for 15 years and having the opportunity to raise dementia awareness on a global stage during the month of the World Cup was too perfect to pass up!

I was anticipating 80+ degree weather with a high level of humidity that spanned a magnificent coastline for 26.2 miles. And like all my prior races, I should stop “presuming” what will happen and just “assume” that it will play out in an unexpected fashion. You know, like running in a never-ending monsoon with 25 m.p.h. winds! But hey, this is Rio baby, and they aren’t postponing the race and I am not stopping until my feet travel 138,336 feet across that finish line.

 Coastline Scenery for Days (Miles 1-6)

Temperature: 75 degrees, slight humidity, sporadic drizzling rain, and a comfortable breeze off the ocean
Conditions: borderline ideal

With approximately 10,000 runners eager for the 26.2 miles ahead, I was reviewing my mental checklist: Take in the scenery. Feed off the endless amount of supporters. Capture photos and video footage. Hydrate, hydrate, hyrdrate. Cross the finish line. Celebrate until you can’t stand anymore.

The gun sounded and my good buddy Adam and I took off through the streets of Rio along the coastline. For the first two miles, my body felt stiff and my right leg felt unusually tense. However, as soon as we rounded the corner of mile three, my muscles relaxed my mind and body were synced for whatever challenges would present themselves along the way.

I was snapping pictures, sprinting for video shots, and living in the moment, something we rarely do in life. Since we were 15 miles from the the heart of downtown, I figured the beginning stage would have a minimal amount of supporters. In fact, for the first six miles, there was no one. Not one single person which was especially strange and slightly eerie for me since I never listen to music when I run. I feed off the crowd. The Brazilians would “presumably” be staggered further down the course amped up and encouraging runners like they had done for weeks on end for their Brazilian soccer team during the World Cup.

Taking a moment to enjoy the moment of running along the coast of Rio.

Taking a moment to enjoy running along the coast of Rio.

Where is Everybody? (Miles 7 – 13.1)

Temperature: 65 degrees, 10 m.p.h. winds, constant drizzle
Conditions: manageable
Supporters: nowhere to be found

With the winds picking up and the rain starting to fall consistently, I realized that we weren’t going to see anyone in the near future besides the volunteers passing out water and Gatorade every other mile. Maybe the people of Brazil had World Cup burnout or possibly they had an exceptionally strong night of partying. While not likely, maybe zombies had taken over Rio and we were running directly into harms way.

From my experience, the one thing that remains consistent in marathons is that conditions always vary, mental hurdles need to be overcome, and expect the unexpected at all times.

Death, taxes, and no two marathons are ever alike. Ever.

Watching the Rio Marathon for a safe, warm and dry distance.

Watching the Rio Marathon for a warmer and dryer distance.

Since there were no supporters on the main race route, I decided to venture off the course between 100-500 feet to capture pictures of people watching from afar, playing soccer in the streets, and Brazilian cops who wanted to lend their support to R4P cause.

The Brazilian police lending their faces to support dementia research on a global stage.

The Brazilian police lending their faces to support dementia research on a global stage.

Solitude to Salvation (Miles 13.2 – 20)

Temperature: 55 degrees, 20 m.p.h. winds, pouring rain
Conditions: challenging
Supporters: likely drinking in a warm pub or their home

As I crossed the halfway point, I still had a big smile on my face but it was so strange to have such solitude along the route. The ocean winds suddenly started jumping off the beach and directly into our path as the rain continued to drain harder and harder from the cloudy sky above. As I ran up bridges and through tunnel after tunnel, water was pouring out of my shoes and into streets, but hey, since when is running a marathon ever a walk in the park?

During this 7 mile stretch, I thought about the struggles my “Papa” endured with dementia. He was in such a world of solitude at times. While he could visually appreciate the people surrounding him during family dinners and visits, there was this tangible feeling of isolation due to his inability to communicate and comprehend language with the progression of his dementia.

As we ran along the coastline of Rio, I could tell pretty quickly that my body was feeling unusually good.

Proudly running in honor of my “Papa” and all patients battling against dementia.

And here I was…running in some pretty tumultuous and challenging conditions in Rio, but I thought about my “Papa” and so many other patients and families I have encountered since R4P launched. If they have to battle against dementia day in and day out, I needed to embrace this solitude and put their belief in what this cause is all about on my back. I was more determined than ever to run through this monsoon and push against the sharp winds knocking others off the course and out of the race.

I was not stopping. Not now, maybe not ever again.

Rain, Rain, Here to Stay! (Miles 20 – 26.2)

Temperature: 50 degrees, 25 m.p.h. winds, pounding rain and flooding streets
Conditions: indoor activities would be recommended
Supporters: a family of 10

Things I never thought I would see during a race: ankle deep puddles for hundreds of feet, volunteers abandoning their stations, kids playing soccer in the streets, and supporting gates on each side of the road being tossed around as if someone from above was playfully puppeteer-ing the entire process.

The final six miles were something for the record books. Runners were cold, fatigued and downright mentally broken. My friend Adam was cramping like a madman (something he rarely does). The wind was literally driving me backwards at points. Cars were pulled over on the side of the road because they couldn’t see 10 feet in front of them. But it was all part of the journey. A journey to not just complete 26.2 miles, but to help generate dementia awareness and research around the globe since to the best of my knowledge, dementia isn’t relegated to one city, state, or country.

This race was symbolic of the fight against dementia. I needed to show up. I wanted to say I was here and I refused to give up.  The goal was overcoming these mental hurdles and finding ways to well, find a way. These moments leave a lasting impression long after the race is over. It carries on in the mission of R4P to find a cure for a dementia. These races are always way more than just races to me.

In the overcast distance, I could see Christ the Redeemer welcoming us into Copacabana beach.

In the overcast distance, I could see Christ the Redeemer welcoming us into Copacabana beach.

At points, I was speed walking because it felt like I was exerting double the amount of energy by lifting my soaked running shoes out of the flooding water and into the air. Shockingly, I finally saw some supporters! A family of 10 dancing in the streets and cheering us on at mile 25. More surprising than seeing actual people, I never cramped the entire race, and I ALWAYS cramp!

As I rounded the harbor and made my way toward mile 26, I was jumping up and down like a kid finally allowed to join his friends in recess. Crossing that finish line was going to be worth every step. The lack of supporters only made me mentally stronger.

But that is the journey. That is why I show up. I want to be in the most challenging races on the planet. And when my frigid body took that 138,336 step across the Rio Marathon finish line, I knew that the journey wasn’t anywhere near done. It was a big step in the right direction. One of many to come…

I ran against dementia. I crossed that finish line. I conquered continent #4.

I ran against dementia. I crossed that finish line. I conquered continent #4.

And if I had to do it all over again, I would.

Fortunately, I am looking ahead to running in “the “land down under.” Look out continent #5, R4P and OUR supporters are heading your way!

#R4Paroundtheglobe #Running Against Dementia

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2014 R4P Boston Marathon Race & Teaser Videos

Returning to Boston for Redemption

For the past 371 days, I have gone to bed and woken up thinking of solely returning back to #BostonMarathon and finishing what I started a year ago when I was stopped at mile 25.8 due to the explosions.

What was it like to run the 2014 Boston Marathon? In a word: surreal.

I have never been a part of such an incredible race atmosphere for an entire 26.2 miles where the streets were filled with #BostonStrong spectators from start to finish.

What was it like to run the 2013 & 2014 Boston Marathon?

Boston Strong All Day Long

I woke up every morning and went to bed every night thinking about what happened last year at the Boston Marathon. No matter how much I tried to write about that experience and what I saw, I just couldn’t find the words. I sat in front of my computer night after night with a blank white page and a blinking cursor staring me square in the face. I didn’t know where to begin so I squashed my heartfelt emotion for way too long: 371 days to be exact.

April 15, 2013 – A day I will never forget

IMG_7240I haven’t spoken publicly about my experience in 2013; I barely shared anything with my family and friends. To be honest, I kept to myself for the better part of a year. There were lots of reasons for that but I think the tragedy in Boston and the images I saw near the finish line played a bigger role than I realized. I took time away from work. I became fairly anti-social and knew the direction I was heading wasn’t a positive one. I can own it. I am not proud of it, but that’s what happened. Call it whatever you want, but I will call it short-term depression.

My memories of that day are the following…I loved waking up at 5:30 am, taking the train downtown, and riding the bus to the starting line in Hopkinton. I dreamed of being a spectator at this race. But here I was, in Boston, runner #23041 waiting my turn to cross the start line from corral six. As the gun sounded, I started running my race, capturing video footage with my GoPro Camera and snapping pictures along the way.

IMG_7170I remember running and seeing spectators on both sides of the course for miles on end. I remember seeing a military man running with a 40-pound backpack up a hill at Mile 4. I remember seeing my mom jumping up and down at Mile 12. I remember passing the women of Wellesley and wondering why I didn’t stop for a kiss. I remember a little boy handing me salted pretzel sticks at Mile 20 as I fought my way up Heartbreak Hill. I remember posing with a man at the top of Heartbreak Hill and thinking “I am so happy that I will never have to run this hill again in my life!” I remember stopping at Mile 23 to hug my mom and good friend Adam. I remember being stopped at Mile 25.8 and being told “Your race is over!” by a Boston bomb squad officer. I remember being in denial. I remember people panicking. I remember my cell phone not working for what seemingly felt like hours. I remember finally speaking to my parents and letting them know I was safe. I remember things I wish I didn’t remember near the finish line. I remember walking 10 miles back to my friend’s place since all forms of transportation were halted. I remember thinking about how I stopped at Mile 12 and 23 to take a combined 15-minute break. I remember saying, “I will finish what I started.”

On February 27, 2014 at 9:36 a.m., I remember receiving a golden opportunity to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. Overcome with emotion and excitement, I was in disbelief, but I knew one thing: I was going to be at that finish line!

April 21, 2014 – A race atmosphere like no other

Today, I feeIMG_2208l proud and humbled to be given a second opportunity.
Today, I Run4Papa.
Today, I run for #BostonStrong

Today, I run for the spectators who were at the right place at the wrong time.
Today, I run to honor those who tragically lost their lives.
Today, I run for the countless supporters of all 36,000 fellow marathoners and their causes.
Today, I run because I love life and believe in redemption.
Today, #Weruntogether.

A year ago, I said, “I will finish what I started” and I intended to deliver on that promise.


Unlike last year, I barely slept. I closed my eyes at 11:30 pm, and woke up at 2:43, 3:59, 4:22, and 5:41 in the morning. After hopping in the shower, I glanced down at my racing gear and thought to myself, “In 11 hours, I will be celebrating the completion of the Boston Marathon.” Adrenaline was rushing through every vein in my body; and to be fair, it was flowing the second I stepped off the plane in Boston 72 hours ago.

Like a year ago, I took the train toward downtown Boston. But unlike a year ago, people on the train were saying, “Thank you for running. Thank you for coming back. Boston Strong!” People wanted to know if I had a “story.” I smiled and said, “We all have one.”

IMG_2374Taking the bus from downtown to where everything begins in Hopkinton was exhilarating. On any other race day, I would keep to myself, save energy and focus on the mental visualization of 26.2 miles ahead. Nothing was normal about today and I loved it. I was listening and chatting away to everyone on the bus. Everyone had a story and a reason to be in Boston. A man whose dream it was to run Boston finally qualified on his 60th birthday. Twin sisters who came to Boston because they wanted to run together in honor of their friends that couldn’t. A teacher inspired by his class to raise breast cancer awareness; a cancer that took the life of his mother 4 short months before. A guy from Charlotte, North Carolina who was stopped at Mile 25.8 desperately looking to get that piece of his life back on track. The slogan for this year’s Boston Marathon was We Run Together. Boy, was that spot on.

IMG_2233Sitting in the athlete’s village, all I could think about was getting to that start line. I stretched, ate some bananas, drank some water and marched my lanky frame over to Corral 9. My race officially began at 11:11 a.m. as I took my first step across the starting line and ran mile after mile with Boston Strong spectators lining both sides of the streets. From Miles 1-5, it felt like the Tour de France with an estimated 500,000 people cheering 36,000 runners; however,  it felt more like millions. I was being pat on the back as I ran by fans shouting “BOSTON STRONG!” Kids were running for 30-second stretches alongside us. Since I never run with music, this type of atmosphere was beyond stimulating and downright inspiring.

At Mile 8, I stopped to hug my parents along with my good friends Adam and Lauren. What a huge honor it was to share this experience with them. Last year, I heard my dad’s voice crying on the other side of the phone, relieved to finally hear from me approximately two hours after the bombings went off. This year, he was smiling and beaming with pride! After a brief pit stop, I continued running knowing that we would see each other seven miles later. At Mile 10, I came upon a man hobbling pretty badly. Once I read his shirt, I understood: running my 150th marathon with a torn Achilles! Incredible.

IMG_2316Approaching the halfway point, I heard women testing the limits of their vocal cords. This year, I was prepared for the women of Wellesley. While I am not one to kiss and tell, I promise you I didn’t casually run by this quarter mile stretch of screaming women and epic signage! Thank you to those that wanted to give this guy an extra boost, you know who you are!

Mile 13.1, wait, what!?! Already. Two hours in and my race was already half over. I’ve never been overly concerned with time, but this was going way too quickly. What rush was I in? The weather was a comfy 65 degrees and I wanted to slow everything down and absorb this remarkable atmosphere. Plus, I started too quickly and knew my calves were going to catch up with the rest of my body, and not in a pleasant way. At Mile 14.5, I saw my entourage again, despite thinking we missed each other half mile back. This was a massive lift! It’s one thing to hear random people rooting for you, it’s another to have it be your own parents and crew.

Feeding off their energy, I began sprinting as my friend Adam ran side by side for several blocks filming away and capturing all angles of this race for R4P. Between Miles 15-20, I passed a man with a prosthetic leg, a teenager on crutches, and a blind woman with a guide all making their way through the hills of Newton toward Heartbreak Hill. Inspiration mixed with undeniable courage continued lifting those running who were beginning to hit the wall.

IMG_2265And then, the monster of all hills. Heartbreak Hill. A year ago, I never wanted to see this puppy again. This year, I was going to enjoy every step. That’s right. My calves were shot and my body was fairly exhausted but how many people can say they ran Heartbreak Hill twice and actually savored it the second time around? This guy can! And when I reached the top of this grueling hill, I was sad it was done. I closed my eyes and took a couple of minutes to be in the moment. We rarely do that in life…

The next 5 miles were a combination of cramping and a fair amount of people willing runners forward. My body was tired, but I didn’t care. I was in Boston. I had another chance to run this race. I was given another opportunity to finish. And nothing was going to prevent that from happening. I received a text from my team that they were eagerly waiting at Mile 25.2; they were ecstatic when I came jogging to a comfortable halt. Pictures and hugs and pictures and more hugs were being dished out like an all-you-can-eat buffet. I recall saying, “what do you think, keep going or call it a day?”

IMG_1559I remember hearing my parents say, “We are so proud of you! We are so happy to be here with you!

That said it all. It meant everything to have them at this race. Everything.

The last mile was the longest. And it was intentional.

I couldn’t believe a year ago, I was in Boston and so close to the finish line. In fact, as soon as I got to Mile 25.8, I lost it emotionally. At one point, I asked a spectator to capture some raw thoughts on film (the only footage I haven’t seen since returning from Boston). Here I was, back again, but totally ready for redemption through the support of so many people. I was ready to run those .4 miles and cross the 118th Boston Marathon finish line.

Almost 6 hours into the race, Bolyston street was still packed with people cheering at the top of their lungs. You would’ve thought this was the homestretch of the elite men’s and women’s run. I kept propelling forward but ended up gliding from one side of the street to the other. I was high-fiving everyone one I could. I was stopping for pictures and probably had a million watt smile across my face. The man next to me said, “I feel like an Olympian right now.” I don’t know what an Olympic athlete feels like, but I went with it. The last 500 feet seemed to go in slow motion. I had dreamed and obsessed over this moment for 371 days! After 138,336 strides, I dropped to the ground, kissed that famous yellow and blue finish line and pumped my fists in complete exhilaration.

I was no longer a runner, I was a Boston Marathoner!


Boston Marathon pictures
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Montage from Start to Finish – 2012

315 Days of Memories

AT LONG LAST! Here is the FINAL R4P montage video of this campaign: a look-back from START to FINISH and everything in between. What exactly can be accomplished in 315 Days? PLENTY!