Words & Interview: Conan Marshall
Joe Randene a.k.a Joe the Runner as he is known on social media, is an ultra-runner and blogger currently based in Greensboro, North Carolina, US. He has the life that many aspire for, a loving family and a history of prosperous jobs, "I was the typical middle aged married story". Nevertheless, something in Joe's life wasn't quite right.
In May 2014 Joe started his weight loss journey, "I found myself 130 pounds overweight". He had come to the sudden realization that weight loss was necessary in order to live a healthier, happier and ultimately longer life.
In this exclusive interview, Joe talks diet, 100,000 steps and stepping out of your comfort zone...
What have you been up to in 2018 so far?
2018 has been busy, fun, and scary! From a running perspective, so far, I have run a relay marathon called the Bloody Massacre with friends and family, just for fun, and the Northern Trails Marathon here in Greensboro. I was going to use it as a long run but got caught up in the fun and raced it. I finished 12th overall, 11th male, and 4th in my age group.
I also paced a friend for 27 miles in her successful attempt to run a 100-mile race at the Blind Pig Ultra in Spartanburg, SC. I'm training for my first 100-mile attempt and was targeting the Devil Dog Ultras, but when the date of the race was announced, I have a conflict. So, I am looking for another 100 miler in October 2018. Stay tuned there.
I also picked up a gig as the writer for trail running in a local quarterly magazine called Running Junction. Another exciting partnership is I have become an ambassador for Runners High Herbals, a company that creates herbal solutions for athletes. They offer muscle rubs, which I love, and herbal beard products, etc. In the personal and Scary department, I "retired early", leaving my high paying job as an executive to work part time at a running store. I want to build my life around my passion, so I took the leap.
Not only am I working at the running store, I have started to coach people via FaceTime, creating personalized training plans, educating on nutrition and race day nutrition, and having weekly calls to help with accountability and life coaching. One of the biggest reasons I left my job was I wanted more time to pursue charitable causes and, on that front, I have partnered with Operation Warm Wishes to raise awareness against bullying.
With cyber bullying on the rise in many Western countries, tackling bullying seems to be more important than ever. Could you talk about the campaign you are involved in?
I wanted to use our platform as runners to raise awareness against bullying because bullying leads to so many awful things, such as depression, drugs, alcohol, violence, and suicide. And I still see absolutely no justification for it. If we had a little more compassion and acceptance, how much better could the world be? I'm not naive enough to believe we can eliminate it completely, but even if we have a positive impact on just one person’s life, it's worth all of the effort.
Operation Warm Wishes and I are running a campaign on Instagram. We will accumulate 100,000 miles in 2018 to signify the children that are bullied each year. All we are asking is that people post their runs, walks, hikes, etc. with the #owwrunagainstbullying for their miles to count, and challenge three friends to do the same. We are currently surpassing 2500 miles in seven weeks and the pace of miles logged is accelerating. Coming up, we are partnering with @sany.delight to do a giveaway of a Nathan handheld and some GU gels to continue the momentum. We are also launching a virtual 5k walk/run in May with a portion of the proceeds from the event going to Operation Warm Wishes.
There has been an unprecedented rise in the popularity of trail and ultra-running. Why do you think this trend has occurred?
Honestly, I think that people started to associate "comfortable" with good. As our world has made things easier and easier in the developed countries, we've been sold on "easy" and "comfortable" and "shortcuts". While I believe that many of the things in our life do improve our standard of living, I also believe we have lost something in not having to have to struggle so much. I mean, when do you grow and develop? Usually during trials and when you are outside your comfort zone.
Ultra and trail running provides that opportunity to anybody willing to lace up their shoes and put in the time. If you set a goal of running 50 miles, you will have to work, you will have to sweat, you will have to hurt.
But, when you accomplish your goal, it will change your life profoundly, unlike anything else. And honestly, I tell the people that I coach, it doesn't even have to be something like a 50 miler. If you have never run, go out and sign up for a 5k. You'll be stretched, and you will grow as an individual. So many of the little things in my life that I used to blow out of proportion now don't seem so difficult to deal with. Ultra-running has taught me that I am capable to handle anything, it literally makes life easier to manage. The growth of the sport is a great thing in my opinion.
First, the more people doing it, means healthier and happier people in general! More healthy and happy people is a great thing. From a practical stand point, for the elite athletes, as the sport grows, the purses will grow and maybe these amazing men and women can scratch out a living via wins and sponsorships. Finally, because so many of these events are on trails, it will raise awareness that we need to preserve these forests and parks. The more eyes on the sport, the better!
Have you always been a runner or is it a new passion?
I have been running for four years. I woke up one day in May 2014 and I couldn't button my shirt. I snapped right there and then. I decided it was time to take control of my life and health and get back in shape. I went for my first run since I was in the military that night. By run, I mean 100 feet and then hunch over and wipe the snot from my nose. I was a mess! But I found a couch to 5k plan and stuck to it, changed my diet, and lost 130 pounds in the process.
You write a lot about your weight loss journey on your blog. Could you share this story with us?
The motivation for my weight loss was the fact that I had that epiphany so to speak and realized that I had a beautiful wife, beautiful children, money, etc. and I was killing myself. I was unhealthy and wouldn't be around long to enjoy it if I didn't make some changes. Well, what I found was that for me to lose weight and sustain it, it had to be a complete lifestyle change. Being "on" a diet doesn't work, you must EAT a healthy diet. And using running as the vehicle, I realized that my relationship with food had to change if I was going to hit my running goals. Drinking alcohol impeded my training, so I cut way back on it.
As my miles increased, my body needed nutrients and good fuel. So refined sugar went out the window and natural foods like vegetables, fruits, and nuts were in. Basically, what they taught us in elementary school was right all along!
There are no shortcuts. As the miles increased and my diet cleaned up, the pounds flew off. And the funny thing, is I forgot how delicious some of these foods are! Blueberries, eggplant, zucchini, dates, etc. delicious. But we are so trained now to grab that value meal or order a pizza. Processed foods are just so calorie dense and is a big reason we are seeing an obesity epidemic throughout developed countries. Since I have been eating better and training regularly, I have so much more energy. I literally feel like I've slowed the aging process!
To what degree do you think running helps the body and mind?
My experiences are that even a short run helps clear my mind and lift my spirits. However, the long runs are where I find myself spiritually. When you have torn yourself down to the point that all you can focus on is each step, you will bare your soul to yourself. You will find out what you truly value and believe. When I am deep in the pain cave, I think about my wife, my kids, people I know who deal with disabilities and pain daily, and then tell myself that if they can deal with it, I can deal with this.
After 50 miles, there are no lies. The truth is exposed. People that I have profiled on my blog, many of them are addicts and/or dealing with depression. I can tell you that they all say that running has saved their lives. It's a healthy addiction and a wonderful anti-depressant. There is a lot of medical evidence out there to support that as well.
Every trail runner has their regular route. Where is your favorite place to run?
I am in love with the trails we have right here in Greensboro, NC. They are a part of the Mountains to Seas trail system. I walk out my door and I have access to endless trails! So obviously the events that are near and dear to my heart are these local ones. Trivium and Junction 311 put on some great local trail events. In the spring we have the Northern Trails Marathon and in the fall, I look forward to the Triple Lakes 40 miler!
I have been fortunate to run all over the world and have enjoyed many of the trails in Florence, Italy all the way to Poznan, Poland. But one race that changed my life was the Great Run Manchester, UK 10k. When a buddy asked me to sign up I thought sure, a little 10k will be a great goal. There were like 60,000 screaming fans and it was televised! The adrenaline rush was incredible!
There is now a huge selection of ultra-running races in North America and Europe especially. What are your future ambitions in terms of distance and competing?
Now that the Devil Dog Ultra is off I need to find another race in the October/November time frame at the 100-mile distance. My goal is to get that first 100 miler under my belt and then start working on accumulating lottery tickets to Western States 100. It is simply my Mecca at this point.
Do you have any gear you would recommend to people who are getting into running or do you take more of a minimalist approach to this lifestyle?
For trails, I am a Hoka One One Challenger ATR guy through and through. I also love my Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Vest. My advice to runners is to go and get a proper fitting for a shoe and get a good quality pair of shoes. Make sure that you find a shoe/sock combo that works for you and avoids blisters, corns, bunions, etc. Take care of your feet and everything is gravy...
What does your long run nutrition and diet consist of?
My long run nutrition is made up of S.I.S gels, dates, beef jerky, S.I.S energy bars, Tailwind, and water. I try to incorporate as much real food as I can, but things like gels and energy bars compact and convenient for long runs and races. My normal daily diet is usually a couple of bananas with overnight oats for breakfast, for lunch a big salad with tuna or maybe some turkey wraps with a couple of apples. The dinner will be mostly vegetables with either rice or sweet potato and a lean meat or fish. Snacks can be some trail mix or peanut butter filled pretzels. my biggest "downfall" is a BBQ. We live in North Carolina and will indulge in some BBQ from time to time. I run 40 to 60 miles a week, so i can get away with it from time to time.
What is the 100,000 step project about?
I thought of the 100,000-step project because I used Fitbit and the Fitbit community on my weight loss journey and I know there are a lot of people in the Fitbit community that are just like me. Middle aged and overweight and looking for inspiration. Well, I am not going to use the word cheat, because there are lots of ways to get a Fitbit to register a step, such as spinning (stationary biking with the device on your foot), and I don't want to discourage anyone from moving. BUT... there was and is this huge debate on the forum about people who are putting up 100,000 steps per day average and how they are cheating and how people who were legitimately running or walking were getting discouraged because of the numbers that people were throwing up in these challenges. So, I went out and did 100,000 steps in a day and posted every segment on Fitbit with the GPS data and wrote about it on my blog. Not to expose the "cheaters", but to show people what 100,000 steps really would look like and what it would take from a time and nutrition perspective so that people had factual data that they could rely on to gauge what was reasonable.
Obviously, it is impossible to average 100,000 steps per day if you are running or walking. It took me over 17 hours and that included running a half marathon in the morning to start. It was about 56.8 miles in total. So, the facts were out there, but my point was this, I didn't want people to believe these crazy numbers and get discouraged and quit their programs or maybe even worse, go out and try to do it, because they could get hurt. To me fitness and healthy living are too important. So, I told people look, don't get caught up in the nonsense. If you average 10,000 steps a day, try and push that up to 10,500 and get healthier in the process. Don't worry about what other people are doing. You have the facts now, so you don't need to get caught up in it.
You can follow Joe on his Instagram, @joe_the_runner and check out his blog www.joerandene.com.