This badass conversation started on September 23rd, 2019. Fully alive.
Joe, how young are you?
I’m 54 years young.
What was your experience with turning 50?
I realized that life is short, and I have so much more that I want to accomplish. I started to manage my time better and plan out goals both athletically and academically. I guess you could call it a sense of urgency, however some might call it a mid-life crisis. I now like to call it being fully alive. I read a post a few years ago where a friend said he goes by metabolic instead of chronological age, and I think that’s an excellent idea. I believe we can combat and reverse the aging process through nutrition, exercise and stress reduction. Most importantly, I understood that I needed to stay as young and healthy as possible for my family that includes my incredible wife Judy, stepson Jim and 11-year-old twin girls Kayla and Maria. Being an older father of girls, I need to stay in shape to keep the boys in check.
What does fully alive feel like?
Being healthy and able to fully participate in life and athletic events regardless of age. Focusing on all the positive people that surround all of us, while being appreciative of the physical and mental gifts that we all possess. Understanding that material possessions and acquiring more “stuff” does not necessarily lead to happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that we need our homes, enough money to retire with and the means to take care of our families comfortably. Fully alive is being mindful of the people around us each day, while appreciating the free and natural gifts of the outdoors. I love the mountains, beach, ocean, streams, rivers, lakes, single track trails, uphill climbs, downhill runs, snow, trees, rain, wind, waves, powder runs, moguls and anything to do with nature. I love swimming in the ocean with my daughters and catching waves. Running with friends, family or groups of people. I love spartan racing, trail races, friendly competition, doing research, giving and receiving good advice and being a member of so many positive social media groups. I also enjoy the peace and solitude of running alone at times while focusing on breath, form, the variability of technical trails and nature.
I feel fully alive while spending time in nature, regardless of the season, climate or conditions.
Can you recall a particular instance when you felt fully alive?
I was running completely alone at the top of a mountain during my second sunrise of the Eastern States 100-mile race. I shut off my headlamp as the sun was peaking over the mountains, while clouds could be seen below my elevation. I was running a single-track ridge surrounded by fields of ferns. I was breathing in cool fresh air, pain free and running at a surprising pace for me. I was 2 hours ahead of the cut-offs and feeling confident at that particular time. I thought about all the people who helped me get to this point. My running coach David who sent me a message with tips, encouragement and advice the day before the race. My friend Kunal who was ahead of me, finished 16th in the race and recommended my running coach along with invaluable tips and race advice. The friends who pumped me up with confidence and good luck messages. My wife and daughters who would be waiting at the finish line (a little longer than expected) with custom tee-shirts and signs.
Running a 100 miler is not a solo journey. Can you talk about the people who helped you?
The volunteers who helped tremendously, especially Dan, a 50+ ultra-runner who met me at several aid stations just to help someone else achieve their goal. Because that’s what the ultra-running community does. Dan drove ahead to Blackwell; the mile 80 aid station and he knew that the last 23 miles would be hell. I practiced at Blackwell and realized that the next climb was going to be tough. I had lost some time on the cutoffs and that was the first time that I doubted my chances of finishing. I remembered my coach telling me the race starts after mile 80, I recalled his invaluable advice on how to finish. Dan helped refill my pack, retrieved my drop bag, pumped me up with confidence and told me I still looked strong.
(Ultra-runners will tell you that even when you’re about to drop).
Dan walked with me a long distance to the trail head climb. He asked for my last name and said “Joe, I want to look at the finishers list tonight and see your name on it”! A complete stranger a day earlier, and I’ll never forget his help and words of encouragement. That is what I love about the Ultra running and spartan race community. Running across the finishing line at the Eastern States 100 with my wife and daughters is something that I’ll never forget. This is what I call being fully alive and I hope that I can give back as much as I’ve received someday.
What has your life been like since your 50th birthday?
It’s been amazing to watch my daughters become confident and successful students and athletes. My wife worked extremely hard to earn her PhD in Education and I continued my education and earned an M-Eng. in Safety Engineering. I have worked in the Railroad Construction and Maintenance industry for 34 years. Our company primarily works on industrial railroads such as steel mills, chemical plants, ports and refineries. In recent years we have lost many customers and revenue due to the economic downturn, plants closing and globalization. I need a Plan B to take care of my family in the future if the trend continues.
What does Plan B look like in your head right now?
Plan A is to continue in the railroad industry and work for as long as possible. Hopefully there is a resurgence in industrial railroad track usage and the funding/spending necessary for the much-needed upgrades. Plan B would include using my 34 years of industrial and railroad experience, along with my education in safety engineering to pursue an Encore career in the safety consulting and inspection field.
What has your physical journey been like since turning 50?
At age 50 I walked into a local SGX Spartan gym-Urban Fit after neglecting my health for many years. I was overweight, out of shape and suffering from lower back and knee pain. Years earlier I had surgery for sleep apnea which was attributed to my weight gain. I was always athletic in my youth playing soccer, running, hiking and skiing extensively into my thirties. I also lifted heavy weights for many years mostly concerned with building muscle and size.
I wanted to be healthy and athletic again and I hoped it wasn’t too late.
How did you find Spartan racing?
I was intrigued by Spartan racing after seeing it on TV. The heavy carries were similar to railroad building where you carry heavy material and tools all day on rocky terrain. The mountain climbing and descending reminded me of hiking and skiing. I showed up for my first Spartan SGX class at Urban Fit with Tara who is one of the owners along with her husband Carl. It was such a positive and friendly atmosphere and different than any workout I ever experienced, and I was sore for days. I recall going over a 4 ft wall during that first class and everyone clapping. It was a humbling experience and I wanted to be athletic and mobile again. I realized that there were plenty of years ahead of me to make it happen.
“For in everything that we do the body is useful, and in all uses of the body it is of great importance to be in as high a state of physical fitness as possible.” Socrates
Next up was Carl’s Saturday running class at Spring Mountain. After warming up the group proceeded to run uphill. At this point I could barely run flat terrain at a 12 min pace. I quickly faded behind the pack and became discouraged at the shape I was in as they pulled away. Carl fell back from the group and walked/jogged with me while offering tips on nutrition, exercise and making weekly progress. I appreciated all the help and encouragement from Carl, Tara and the Urban Fit community, and I was all in from that week forward.
I have met some incredible friends and athletes at Urban Fit and from the Spartan community that have helped me every step of the way. I was amazed at what the fifty and over athletes from Urban Fit were accomplishing and it inspired the hell out of me. In the last 4 years I have completed 20 Spartan races that includes 6 Ultras total with 2 Killington Ultra finishes and a Spartan 24-hour Ultra World Championship finish in Iceland. A half marathon, 50k trail races, many local trail races, 5k’s, 10k’s, two 21k Spartan trail races, a Battle Frog, Savage race and the Eastern States 100-mile trail race in August of 2019. The Ultras and 100-mile race remind me of grueling 24-hour track outages during my early years on the railroad. In the last 5 years I have lost over 50 pounds and believe that I’m in the best overall shape of my life. Signing up for an event starts the process and following a plan makes it happen.
Congratulations on losing over 50 pounds and achieving a physical presence that rivals your younger self. What do you believe you have gained through this process?
I have gained the knowledge from trial and error of what works and what doesn’t work. I try to exercise five days a week or more when possible. Three to four days of weight training specific body parts. For example: (Legs, calves and abs), (Back, bis, grip and abs), (chest, tris and abs), (shoulders and abs). Moderate to light weight with high reps to failure along with drop sets/supersets. Running is crucial for me to maintain or lose weight as needed for races, and to increase endurance. I have also learned much about nutrition from books, research, my friends and athlete groups on Facebook. My health has improved tremendously. I have only seen a doctor a few times in the last five years for a routine visit and a colonoscopy. When I eat a clean low inflammatory whole food and a plant-based diet I feel great and my running improves. If I eat processed foods, gluten, sugar and junk food I feel pain and suffer joint inflammation during my runs until I cleanup my diet. I enjoy eating pizza, ice cream and having popcorn at the movies as much as the next guy but try not to make a habit out of it anymore. In my 40’s I would eat an entire pizza or polish off an entire bag of Hershey kisses while lounging in the man cave. Now it’s everything in moderation or as an occasional treat. In regard to running, it’s a matter of physics, the lighter I am the further and faster I can run. I have a lot more running and races planned for the future, therefore I have a strong desire to stay in shape and keep the weight off.
Can you speak to any of the adversity you have faced?
In late 2015 and early 2016 we unfortunately and suddenly lost my wife’s parents within a few months of each other. They were tremendous parents, grandparents and in laws who lived within a few miles and were very active in our lives and the local community. I realized that life is short, and I needed to take accountability for my health to be around as long as possible for my young daughters and family. Life is short. I think we understand that idea but don’t fully embrace it. Death is a harsh reminder.
I’m very sorry for your wife and you who lost both her parents. If you don’t mind can you share your struggles and more of your enlightenment within those losses?
This could be a lengthy response, and I don’t want it to be. This is about you Joe. I will offer this. I have been a student. Watching with compassion my wife and her siblings and trying to just be there whenever I can, invited and uninvited. I’m starting to form, for a lack of better words, a grief plan. How will I deal with my grief? I’m basing it around celebration of life instead of mourning of death. This is making me brutally present and grateful that my parents are still here and I don’t take one day of that gift for granted. When they leave this world, my job will to be to keep their life alive through memory and celebration of it. Thank you for asking. Let’s get back to you.
In regard to my in-laws, it was shocking to lose two seemingly healthy family members within such a short period of time to cancer and heart valve issues. My wife’s mother was an educator and author who founded a tutoring center that specialized in learning disabilities. Her father was a mechanical engineer who held patents and worked for a major manufacturer. They were very health conscious, intelligent and informed. They enjoyed spending their retirement years with their children, grandchildren, family and friends. I am happy that my daughters were able to spend invaluable time with their grandparents, who taught them so much. From music lessons, art, schoolwork, and everything else that grandparents do. They speak often of all their grandparents and we were lucky to share the memories, experiences, wisdom, happiness and love. They are greatly missed by us all. When I was in my early thirties, my mother passed away after surgical complications from Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. She was a very intelligent women who raised eight children which is no easy task. I honestly don’t know how my parents managed the challenges of such a large family, but I’m happy that my number was called being sixth in the hierarchy. My mother was a talented singer and homemaker who is greatly missed. I recall happy memories of her singing in the kitchen from my youth. I can see a part of my mother in my twin daughters which keeps her memory and spirit alive. We have many happy memories to recall from our childhood, especially the times shared at the beach in the summers. We are fortunate to have my father and stepmom Barb who are also tremendous parents/grandparents to spend time with during special occasions and holidays. We enjoy spending as much time as possible with them while learning from their stories, knowledge and life experiences.
Have their deaths made you think about your life?
I’m concerned about the amount of toxins and chemicals that I have been exposed to during my railroad career. I have worked on and inspected industrial tracks at some of the biggest superfund sites and chemical facilities on the east coast. We try to limit our exposure to silica dust, heavy metals and environmental hazards as much as possible, especially in the last decade. If it’s possible to sweat out and run off accumulated toxins, then I think I have a real good shot at that. Additionally, I believe I can combat or reverse any occupational exposure to disease through nutrition and exercise. I am trying to transition to more of a whole foods plant-based diet to increase my longevity and quality of life going forward. I am more of a Flexitarian at this point as I increase my awareness in regard to excess dairy/meat consumption, and nutrition in general.
In 4 years, you have accomplished more than most do in a lifetime. What singular event has made the deepest impression on you and why?
The Spartan Ultra World Championship in Iceland was an amazing experience. Being able to run with the Elites on the same course for up to 24 hours was something I’ll never forget. At the athletes briefing the night before the race, disabled veterans and athletes from the Oscar Mike foundation delivered motivational speeches that were inspiring and would provide extra energy late in the race. Being in the same room and receiving instructions along with Ryan Atkins and Jonathan Albon was surreal and I actually felt like an athlete.
In true spartan fashion, I received an abundance of information before the race in regard to gear, transition and race strategy from Facebook friends. My friend Tim Werner created a group called the Island of Misfit Toys for racers without a crew to help each other in transition. Prior to the race Tim put out a gear list that included waterproof socks and essential clothing items. I was warm and dry the entire race and never felt so prepared in my life. I am thankful to Tim, Josh Fiore and everyone else who ran the Iceland Ultra in 2017 and helped us rookies prepare.
Why do you love this kind of racing?
I love adventure racing, especially being in the mountains, single track trails and the snow. I had a ton of experience in my younger days with skiing steep and icy terrain that it boosted my confidence and excitement for the Iceland race. I recall Ryan Atkins passing me on top of the mountain like I was standing still late in the race. We shared a few words as I moved to the right on an icy downhill single track with no one else in sight. I was mindful of where I was at that moment while watching the footwork of the greatest OCR athlete and descender in the sport. Halfway through each bucket carry I rested the bucket on a large rock in the snowy darkness. On my 5th lap I was joined by a young and fast Elite racer from the Czech Republic who was leading the race at certain times. I asked a few questions about his lap times and we had a nice conversation. He finished 2nd behind Atkins. I enjoyed talking to spartan racers from all over the world during the race and realized that we all had one common goal of encouraging each other and getting the buckle.
It’s the inspiring people that I meet and the stories that we share before, during and after a race that I love.
What was your most memorable moment?
The most memorable moment occurred as I approached the A frame cargo net many laps into the race. Para athlete Kasey McCallister from the Oscar Mike foundation was climbing over the net without legs while using only his arms which was incredible. Kasey completed twelve miles of difficult terrain and many obstacles using his arms and tremendous willpower. He was being encouraged by wounded warriors who had lost various limbs while fighting recent wars. I stopped and talked to the group as I heard some of them teasing a fellow member about the way he pronounced water. They were saying “do all people from Philly call it “wooder”. I said hey I’m from Philly and that’s how we say it, They asked me to pronounce it and I said “wooder” and they all laughed. We had a nice conversation and a few more laughs during our brief chat. As I ran back onto the dark and icy single-track trails I was eagerly followed by the groups therapy dog who naturally wanted to run. I could hear the group calling the dog from a distance, so I stopped and said, “you have to go back.” I teared up as I ran into the darkness thinking about the sacrifices that our veterans have made, and how fortunate I was to be running free and relatively painless. I now had a new perspective of the minor and temporary pain that I was feeling and a new determination to leave everything that I had on that course.
What was there a moment in the race that defined your 4-year spartan journey?
I found myself in 2nd place in the 50+ age group after the 5th lap and approximately 18 hours on the course. I was preparing for a 6th lap not knowing if the 3rd place competitor would cross the finish line when he approached transition or attempt another lap. I spent 30 minutes in transition as the course became icy and the conditions worsened. The spartan officials decided to allow clamp-on traction devices for the last 6 hours of the race due to ice at the top of the mountain. I was encouraged by the officials and fellow racers to go outside and cross the finish line to secure 2nd place. I was unsure as I walked outside and approached the finish line where one spartan volunteer stood. I was 10 feet from the line and thankfully she said “Stop right there! Are you sure you want to cross this line?” I explained my situation and she encouraged me to check with the officials one last time to see where I stood. As I suspected the clock was ticking in transition and I was now in third place. If I wanted 2nd place back and the 24-hour finishing medal I had to complete a 6th lap in around 5 hrs. and change. If I didn’t make it or was injured, I go home empty handed with a DNF. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I’m heading back out. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I filled with adrenaline as I ran back onto the course.
It was all or nothing at that point and I was willing to take the risk.
I was very aware of the consequences of suffering a hard fall and an injury. I pushed the pace when I could and made it to the top of the mountain. As I ran alone in the snowy darkness I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for all the people who helped me up to this point. My father who wished me good luck and was naturally concerned about my safety. My family members and friends who sent me off with encouraging messages. My wife Judy and children who always offer positive messages and support. The power of positive thinking really helps when you have to dig deep. I was mindful of where I was physically at the start of this 4-year spartan journey and where I was at this moment in time. It was a team effort and I wanted to make everyone who helped me up to this point proud.
I crossed the finish line 2nd in my age group and 19th overall in the AG division in around 21 hrs. 30 minutes. I celebrated with the Island of Misfit Toys group and headed back to my room in Reykjavik. I received a call from my wife who told me she had stayed up all night following the live results. She was so happy and wanted to hear all about the race. Standing on my first spartan podium that night in front of the lights, crowd and cameras was an experience I’ll never forget. It wouldn’t have been possible without the advice and support of all the incredible people I met through spartan racing and the Urban Fit community. For this I will be forever grateful.
Thank you for sharing all of this. It’s beautiful. I tend to believe when we walk through a door like the one you did in Iceland it changes you or your perception of what is possible. What did you learn?
I now realized that I could not only survive a 24-hour race, but also contend in my age group. I attribute my ability to grind out long events to my railroad construction background. There are no DNFs on the railroad during a weekend track outage, especially for contractor employees. The track has to be in service at a particular time regardless of weather, equipment breakdowns and unexpected events. Planning and preparation is the key to success and each crew member is needed to pull his own weight.
In preparation for Iceland I used a modified version of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Deming Model of continuous improvement that is used extensively in safety engineering. I learned that with the proper training, gear, nutrition, hydration, stretching and a positive attitude, anything is possible. The key is to keep eating, keep drinking water/tailwind, keep-up the potassium, sodium and magnesium, and keep moving forward. There is an entire 24 hours to improvise and make necessary changes during the race.
I learned that the Goggin’s 40% rule is accurate. We are capable of 60% more than we believe we are.
Visualization, the power of positive thinking, racing happy, and having a mantra during a race all helps. Of course, it only works if your preparation and training up to race day align with your race day mentality. I learned a lot from reading books from David Goggins, Rich Roll, Scott Jurek and many others. I also believe that the human body is an incredible machine capable of great feats of endurance and strength. A few years ago, I completed a human performance and ergonomics class and was fascinated by the research and information. The bone density of hunter gatherers was nearly twice as dense as an average modern-day person, due to the many miles that they trekked. The more load and stress that is put on bones and joints the stronger they become. Research shows that runners and impact sport athletes have 20-30 percent greater bone strength compared to non-athletes.
I trained hard for that race, waking up early for squats, weighted lunges/step-ups, deadlifts, pull ups, grip strength, etc. Long training runs at night with a headlamp, SGX class, a Spartan Super a month before and a grueling 50k trail race in heavy mud a few weeks before the race. I realized that yoga, stretching and having a low inflammatory diet helps tremendously in a 24-hour race. My perception of what was now possibly changed dramatically. I wanted to go further in a trail race without obstacles and heavy carries.
I researched and signed up for the Eastern States 100 a month after the Iceland race. I loved the fact that it was a 100-mile loop with new technical terrain every step of the way. Carry the supplies and gear I need in a hydration vest and keep moving forward. It doesn’t get any better than that and I was not getting any younger! I learned that when you sign up for a difficult challenge and surround yourself with positive people, good things happen! I was running with my Ultra running friend Kunal who is a wealth of information and a tremendous trail runner. I told him that I signed up for the Eastern States and was happy to find out that he had also signed up. Kunal asked if I had a running coach and gave me the contact information of his coach. His coach recommended his friend David Stango who place 6th at the Eastern States and 2nd at the Worlds End 100k among many other first place and top Ultra finishes. The running plan for the next seven months would challenge me to the core; however, it was the difference between a DNF and crossing the finish line within the 36-hour cutoff.
I’ve tried to explain to others what it’s like to run 100 miles. Could you please share your version of doing it?
It’s all about preparation for the race that includes the running plan, essential gear, nutrition, electrolytes and hydration. During the race you need to take in a constant supply of calories to avoid bonking. According to my Strava data I burned over 24,000 calories running 103 miles and climbing 22,000 ft of elevation and technical terrain. I love to eat solid food and I’m not a big fan of the gels for calories. The 17 aid stations had incredible food choices and I ate everything you could imagine. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was served, anything and everything from bacon and eggs, pancakes, sandwiches, pb and j, watermelon, soup, hummus and tons of snack food. Your body is running a calorie deficit, so you need to take in as much as possible. I sipped tailwind the entire race for the glucose and electrolytes. Every few hours I would take two enduralyte extremes which is sodium, potassium and magnesium. My drop bags had chicken noodle soup, pb and j’s for the road, ensure max protein and ensure plus nutritional shakes. I made the mistake of not changing socks during the race to save time and suffered terrible blisters after 60 miles.
My coach slowly built the weekly mileage up to a peak of 84 miles a few weeks before the race. I tapered down to 34 miles for the final week. Hydration, stretching and yoga from Monday to Friday. You need a positive attitude on race day. Racing happy and enjoying yourself passes the time. As the spartan world champion Hobie Call says-the race is a celebration of all the hard work and preparation that you put into it. It’s important not to think of the mileage in one chunk. Break it down from aid station to aid station or in 10-mile increments.
I made some rookie mistakes such as going out too fast, not changing socks or shoes, not reapplying anti-chafe to critical spots, and not bringing enough batteries. Many things went wrong, but much more went right. I’ll be better prepared and knowledgeable for my next 100 miler. I plan on doing one per year for as long as physically possible. The Grindstone 100 in Virginia is next on the radar.
Did you use pacers or a crew?
I chose to run without pacers or a crew because I didn’t know what to expect as a rookie. However, I teamed up with other runners for at least 50 of the miles. Ultra-runners are interesting to talk to and you pass the time for hours listening to their stories and sharing your own as you run together. I met friends Brian, Josh, Andy, TJ and Gary and learned something from each one of them. I asked Brian who is a 100-mile veteran with a Badwater 135 and a Western States 100 finish to his credit, how he deals with pain and discomfort late in the race. He said, did you feel any pain during the last hour as we talked and ran together? The answer was no. The pain cave is inevitable in a 100-mile race and it’s important to distinguish exertion pain from injury pain. Exertion pain is temporary and will subside after the race. I joked with people that Goggins was my pacer. When the going got tough I would replay a Goggins motivational ass kicking video in my mind that helped with the mental aspect, which is half the battle during an Ultra.
Do you feel like trail running and mediation have anything in common?
From my perspective, technical trail running is a form of meditation and mindfulness as you must concentrate on each step, especially on courses with an abundance of rocks and roots. Your mind can’t wonder, or you can quickly turn an ankle in the middle of the night, miles from an aid station. Preventing injuries and falls is critical to finishing a race, and you need to be mindful and fully aware of the conditions and terrain. Surviving and testing the limits of endurance is what inspires and motivates most ultra-runners. There is something very rewarding about getting out of the comfort zone and being mostly concerned with staying warm, eating, drinking and surviving. Participating in an Ultra Marathon increases resilience by improving mental and physical toughness.
During and after the race you become more appreciative of what you have, including your family, home and essentials of life.
For those who have never run a trail race what is the atmosphere like?
The runners, pacers, crews, volunteers and cheering spectators create a positive and supportive vibe that motivates everyone to finish. I recall approaching one of the earlier aid stations at the Eastern States and having spectators call out my number and cheer. I had to look down to check my number to realize it was for me. The culture and community feel is what draws in most ultra-runners. Everyone is welcomed, accepted and treated as equals, regardless if you finish first, last or DNF. If you toe the starting line and give it a shot, there is a mutual respect and feeling of comradery that resonates throughout the race. Advice, supplies and information flows freely along with conversation and encouragement.
From my experience, the trail racing atmosphere is the complete opposite of the fast paced, high stressed, negative news reporting and consumer driven society that we are accustomed to. The trail racing community is chilled out, positive, encouraging and generally happy. I’ll take more of that all day every day and highly recommend trail racing to anyone that’s interested. Many trail races are also hiking and walking friendly. Either way, it’s a great way to reduce stress and get some much-needed exercise.
You mentioned David Goggins. Who I have found to be a huge personal inspiration. What do you get from his words and his life?
When I read Goggins book and saw the before and after photos I was shocked at his transformation. The fact that he lost over 106 lbs. in under 3 months to qualify for Navy Seal training is incredible. Goggins went through Hell week 3 times because of injuries and illness and never gave up. He is the only armed forces member to complete Seal training, Army Ranger training and Air Force Tactical training. He has placed near or at the top of some grueling Ultras, which is impressive due to his size, and once held the Guinness book pullup record.
Goggins is big on accountability, he practices what he preaches and has a brutal work ethic. He says there is no light at the end of the tunnel, just more tunnel. In other words, life is a constant battle and a continuous improvement process at any stage. The Goggins 40% rule is a theory that when most people think they are physically done, you have 60% more in the tank. I have personally used Goggins motivation to get me through some difficult endurance events. When I need a good kick in the ass to get motivated I watch some Goggins videos to get back on track. I have much respect for anyone who has served in the armed forces and has fought for our freedom. Many of my recent classmates and professors served in the armed forces and I appreciate their discipline and professionalism. Military Standards 882E serve as the roots for system safety with accountability and autonomy being utilized to eliminate or control hazards and risk.
David Goggins faced a lot of adversity in his life what did you learn from that?
Goggins faced tremendous hardships, discrimination, and challenges in his early life. He decided to use those experiences to become mentally and physically resilient to improve his lot in life. He shares his stories to help others and leads by example, while competing in grueling endurance events to this day. If extreme physical challenges are not your thing, he motivates everyone by encouraging people to be the best version of themselves, while participating in what makes them happy. I was fortunate that my parents provided a happy childhood full of opportunities and positive experiences. Many people throughout this world are not as fortunate. I highly recommend Goggins book “Can’t Hurt Me” to anyone who wants to use past challenges and failures, to learn how to set the bar higher and achieve personal goals going forward. I have experienced failures in life and have made many mistakes as everyone else has. Goggins shows us that we learn more from failure than success and we can come back stronger and wiser from the experience.
You have a very obvious and sincere level of gratitude towards others that you race and learn from. Has this been a skill you always had, or have you developed it along your journey?
I was always grateful for the people who had a positive impact on my life and the lives of others. Whether it was a coach, teacher, family member, mentor, workout partner or friend. I think we all recognize the glass half full people throughout our lives that go the extra mile and use their talents to make an impact. These are the true Badasses in life that I am grateful to know. When I began my fitness and racing journey, I was surrounded by more of these Badasses and my level of gratitude has increased to this day.
“All you need are these: certainty of judgement in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.”
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.6)
Perception, Action and Will are the disciplines of Stoicism. Control your perceptions, direct your actions properly, willingly accept what’s outside your control.
-Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic.
It’s amazing to me that these stoic philosophies from over 2300 years ago are still true today. They were dealing with different but similar issues; however, the message and solution is the same. Accept that situations are outside of your control and take-action by using our limited time wisely. I am certainly not a master of this discipline to say the least, but it helps to default to this mindset when times are challenging, and I need to refocus.
In the Spartan and Ultra running community, there is an abundance of people helping others to improve and reach their potential. Joe DeSena, Elite and competitive age group racers, SGX and fitness trainers, running coaches, and nutritional experts. I will always be grateful for the advice and culture that surrounds the racing community. The positivity is contagious, and I try to offer motivation and information to those that seek it, and congratulations to those who deserve it.
I learned that being grateful reduces stress and increases health. I have much to be grateful for, including, family, friends, health and the ability to run and race this year and for many years to come.
Stoicism is such a powerful tool. How did you find your way into the ancient philosophy?
When I returned to school to finish my degree I had to take a required philosophy course. I looked forward to the readings and classes where we would debate Greek philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism and other philosophical readings. I really enjoyed the professor and young students from that class as all opinions and perspectives were welcomed during our discussions.
I also look forward to waking up each morning to the Stoic philosophy from your Facebook page- Third Eye. It really helps to put daily challenges and everyday life into perspective. One example from Scott’s daily Third Eye posts-
“Deeply accept reality moment to moment. Especially those things that you cannot change or control. There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
“Realize that resisting what you cannot change causes immense unnecessary suffering. As the Stoic said, love your fate, recognizing that every event has led you to become exactly who you are today, and you could not have become this person otherwise.” Epictetus.
These are powerful daily messages that you and other group members provide to help put life into perspective. Thank you, Scott, for your efforts that are much appreciated and that help to make a difference in so many lives. Additionally, I read a page of the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday every morning when I wake up. The writings of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca are quoted and explained each day. The Obstacle is the Way is another highly recommended book by Ryan Holiday that I am currently reading. Holiday teaches us how to turn trials into triumph by living in the present moment and changing your perspective, based on the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
What is your favorite sound?
I think it’s a toss-up between waves crashing on the beach, fast moving streams and the sound of wind through the trees. I enjoy all sounds of nature, especially while trail running.
If you were told you had only one more day on this planet what would you do?
I would spend the day with my wife and kids at the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City NJ. Walking on the beach, talking, swimming in the ocean and spending quality time together. A long walk to the Corson’s Inlet and a night on the boardwalk, enjoying each other’s company. Quality time while vacationing with the family is what many of us need more of.
If it was possible, what advice would 54-year-old Joe give to 24-year-old Joe?
Keep doing what your doing and don’t change a thing because it all led to a really great life and family. Furthermore, realize that all experiences, challenges, obstacles, failures and successes will make you who you are. Listen more to the subject matter experts and talk directly to people who are the source of information whenever possible. Ask questions and be skeptical of secondhand knowledge, stories or gossip that is passed around freely in our society. Life is short, surround yourself with positive and happy people who lift you and others up. Reciprocate by encouraging and helping as many people as possible to achieve their dreams and goals. Life is a continuous improvement process, growth and knowledge is attainable at any age. The greatest obstacles offer the most satisfying reward at the finish line. Climbing the steepest mountain will be challenging, however, the reward and view at the summit is incredible and well worth the effort.
Be proactive rather than reactive regarding health and life.
What is the craziest, most far out thing you roll around in your head you would like to do as an athlete?
I think about getting into either the Hardrock, Leadville or Western States 100. I would love to have another shot at the Spartan Ultra World Championship, especially if it returns to Iceland. My friend is talking about running the Ouray 100 in Colorado which is 102 miles and 42,000 ft of elevation gain and considered to be one of the toughest hundreds. I would love to complete a difficult 100 miler out west. I skied quite a bit in Colorado in my twenties and can’t wait to get back there for a difficult trail race.
What is your relationship with fear?
I can honestly say that I’m not afraid of anything, especially as I get older and wiser. I’m not really looking forward to losing strength, endurance and athleticism as I age. Hopefully advancements in nutrition, supplementation and exercise will make our 60’s the new 50’s and so on. Either way I plan on trail running, hiking, stretching and lifting to combat the aging process.
Bring it on because it’s all good and I’m looking forward too many more races and adventures with family and friends.
Joe Higgins, Husband, Father, Spartan, Ultra-runner, fully alive human being.
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