No Quitting on the Gravel Road

Maximus is an inspirational F3 The Fort (Fort Mill, SC) PAX. He’s the guy you want representing your region in feats of strength. He’s the guy that shoulders the extra weight when you’re too tired to go on. He pushes past the pain and reminds you that we “Get To” do this.

On July 1, 2023 I made it official. I signed up for the “Lake Haigler 12hr” which is a 12 hour trail race around a 5K lap at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, SC. The objective is to complete as many laps as you’re able within a 12hr window, 12pm – 12am.

While July 1 was the registration day, the thought really began swirling back in March. It was an idea followed by a conversation, then more conversations. Eventually, it led to having friends consider doing the race as well. So, there it was, I was committed.

After having completed different endurance events and observing others compete in extended running events, I came up with a mileage goal that was a nice round number. A number that exceeded any individual run or relay race distance I’ve completed in the past. A number that could serve as a reminder of what the body is capable of with training, discipline and a little will. That number, which wouldn’t be verbalized until two weeks later, was 50 miles.

You’ve heard it before, long journeys begin with a single step. Or, memories are made in the journey, not in the outcome. There is so much truth within those statements and my own journey to November 18, 2023 includes many memories, both painful and pleasant. However, what I want to share with you is what actually happened in the final hours of that day.

Within F3,  as I’ve shared before, I have built friendships with men that will support me through anything. I often refer to a few of these friends as the guys I’d call at 2am when stuff hits the fan. While they laughed at me, commenting how much of a dumb idea this goal of mine was, they were willing to support and encourage me, ensuring I didn’t quit on my goal. We’ve pushed each other before so they’re aware of the gas in the tank.

A critical part of this new goal was ensuring I had support runners, a guy who would run a lap or more with me to minimize the amount of time I spent on the trail alone. I knew a few guys would be out there to run with our group but I didn’t know who would be there and for which lap(s). Come to find out, there was coordination happening without my knowledge. It’s a humbling feeling to know that other men are planning part of their day around joining you as you chase after a personal goal.

At 12pm, the race started and I began the familiar run down the gravel road, the start of the 5K course which included a few hills followed by dirt trails with rocks and roots, more hills, a downhill, a trek around the lake followed by a final uphill gravel climb. After the first two laps, I realized I kept a good pace while shaking the rust off after a week of tapering. I made the turn and saw Kim, Kaitlin and Olivia. It is extremely motivating to see familiar faces and this too provided a jolt. They’ve seen the effort I’ve put into the training so to see them smiling and hear them cheering me on, added an emotional boost. I stopped for a picture with them then had the realization, I “got to” run that course at least 14 more times for a total of 16 laps, leading to 50 miles.

The pain I had been feeling in the latter part of my training journey had begun to make itself known on lap two but I knew it was coming and mentally, I was mostly ready for it. Then, 1/3 of the way through lap three, I felt it. That familiar feeling which mimicked sciatic nerve pain but was more likely attributable to the piriformis muscle flared up. Having felt this on two previous runs, I had expected it but knew it would take significant mental strength to block it out and stay the course.

After finishing lap four and heading back toward our tents to grab food, I saw a familiar face, Jason (Gears). He was dressed to run so I was energized to learn he was going to join me for the next four laps. We pushed a fairly quick pace and were even able to talk some but near the conclusion of our second lap together, my lap six, he could tell my energy for talking was waning. Reading my cues, Jason set the pace for me to follow and I settled in behind him, staying focused on his feet so as he stepped over rocks and roots, I did too. As we finished running together, I had now completed eight laps, an estimated 26 miles. I remember the conflicting feeling about my accomplishment so far. While I had just completed a marathon, I was only halfway to the target. I had a lot left in the tank but my hips were getting tight, my legs heavy and my feet, beginning to throb.

Having done weekend-long rucking events, marathons, 30-hour team relay events and lots of running in the dark, I knew the hardest part of this 12 hours was just about to begin. The sun was setting so when coupled with a body that was tiring, the will to push through had to take over. After a solo lap, another friend was ready to hit course with me, Luis (Vuvuzela). He and I have logged so many miles together and like Jason, Luis could see the condition I was in, knowing what pace to push. At this point, I could run the 5K course with my eyes closed and if I were to have turned my headlamp off, it would have felt like I was. With a slightly upset stomach to add to the body soreness, I had to dig a little deeper to keep up with Luis. I knew I was capable and he didn’t let me feel bad for myself, pulling me along, turn by turn, hill after hill.

We completed two rounds together and Luis peeled off after my 11th lap so here I stood, five to go with the stars shining bright in a very dark sky. I made my way into the tent area to refuel on chicken and pasta and saw another very good friend of mine, Jeff (Spiderman). I was surprised as he does not frequent the trails, especially in the dark. From what I remember, Jeff did a visual assessment, looking to understand what condition I was in, both physically and mentally. Fortunately, the pain I believe was due to the piriformis muscle was no longer an issue. I’m fairly certain my brain turned the associated nerves off as the pain in my hips and feet was the most prominent. Now knowing that, Jeff said, “let’s go” and with headlamps shining, we took off down that gravel road for the start of lap 12.

This is not the first time Jeff and I have tackled a difficult task together. In 2019, we completed a grueling weekend-long ruck event that consisted of 42 hours with loads of weight on our backs and shoulders. That weekend put me in a walking boot and shoulder PT. Thinking of what we achieved then and our collective commitment to a goal, I thought I was prepared to go to 50 tonight, regardless of how I felt afterward.

He could see me limping along, struggling to get my legs back in stride after the brief stop at the tent. As we reached the various hills, I pointed out where we’d walk, familiarizing him with the course we would spend the next few hours on. He obliged but I’m sure he was disappointed as we stopped for our first walk after only a few hundred yards of running. Me on the other hand, I looked forward to those walks, it was the end of the walk and start of the run that had me grumbling. Throughout the first lap, I gave him an overview of the experience so far, what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard and of course, what I’ve felt along the way. We completed that lap and made the stop at the tent, knowing we couldn’t stop for long, a feeling of rinse and repeat.

Down the gravel road into the darkness again with a friend on my right, committed to being there with me until the very end. That realization set in half-way through lap two. The truth is, I didn’t want to run another lap solo, not tonight. I’ve spent countless hours running hundreds of miles alone but on this night, with over 35 miles on my feet, I felt a slight leaning toward quitting on myself if my body got a lot closer to the proverbial wall runners speak of. You know that moment when a challenge becomes real and you look back at your accomplishment so far thinking, “It’s ok if I stop now. Look what I’ve done.” It’s that justification that I am very familiar with. Would I have been a failure had I stopped after that lap, lap 13? Of course not, however, how would I feel when my wife saw me sitting in the chair having stopped before she came back for the conclusion of the race? How would I feel when I told my kids that for months I’ve trained for 50 miles and stopped with over two hours left on the clock because my feet hurt. Seriously, what did I think, 16 laps would be easy on my body? Of course it’s going to hurt. Suck it up. It’s these statements I kept telling myself throughout the night.

You can see the back and forth I was now wrestling with. It was the desire to get to 50 versus the justification to be satisfied with the current accomplishment and it was exhausting. With this on my mind and the concern of running solo, I asked Jeff one question, “How long are you planning to run with me?” His response? “Until you hit 50.” “Oh sh**”, I thought. This meant one thing, quitting isn’t an option he would let me choose. This was the latest example of trading off on a 120lb sandbag over 8.5 miles with a loaded ruck on our backs. He knew I had it in me and didn’t give any space for my own self-doubt.

Lap 13 down. Lap 14 up ahead. We stopped at the tent then started again down the gravel road. As mentioned, Jeff hadn’t been training for this, any of this. His legs started to feel the soreness and the chance of tripping on a rock was becoming more of a possibility. And on this lap, it happened, I heard the noise every trail runner can recognize. I had been hearing him stumble occasionally but this was different. I heard the stumble followed by the slide as Jeff went down to the ground with a combined slide and roll. I slowed down, which isn’t saying much considering my current pace, and turned around. He looked up just in time to see my light facing him and with all the love in his heart, he yelled, “Don’t stop, keep going. I’ll catch up.” There may have been a few other words thrown in there for added encouragement but he was not about to let me come up short because I stopped to check on him. Frankly, I’m not sure how I could’ve helped but we weren’t about to find out. I started running and as he predicted, he was quickly on my heels.

We finished lap 14 with a few more stumbles but I don’t remember there being another fall. Then toward the conclusion of lap 15, we rounded the final turn to begin the walk up the gravel hill as I’d done 14 times already. My feet were so sore, legs, so heavy and my hips, man, my hips. I’m sure this is a bit dramatic but it felt as if I had to swing my body to get my hips to rotate and move my legs. The pain deep within what I believe were my hip flexors was unlike anything I’ve felt before. This makes sense seeing as I’m trying to complete something I’ve not attempted before. This time it just felt different, more severe, testing my will to ignore and work through it. Jeff went to the tent and I checked in with the team tracking the runners’ laps. I took a peek at the small crowd beginning to gather under the pavilion enjoying a beer, a slice a pizza and really, enjoying just being off their feet. I’m sure my eyes had the 1,000-yard stare as the lights hit them and man, did I ever want to join them? I might have grabbed a handful of salted potatoes, my food of choice they offered, but it’s a blur. On the other hand, what happened next, isn’t.

Let me remind you about the relationship Jeff and I have. We’ve built a few traits with each other over the years. Trust, accountability and most importantly now, encouragement. He’s a guy in his mid-forties. He’s a husband, a dad, a brother, a son, a friend, a boss, and in the primary overlap of our circles, he’s known as Spiderman within F3. We share the same alma mater, undergraduate for him. We share a similar desire to physically test ourselves which includes a fair amount of mental testing, too. My point is this. We share an understanding that became clearer than ever that night. It’s an understanding that I am going to push you to the edge because in this moment, I more than you, know you have more to give. I will not let you quit. Imagine if every man had a guy like this in their life? Lucky for me, I have three, and on that night, one of them was with me to the end, refusing to let me quit on myself.

I made my way to our tent and saw Jeff, Kim and Kaitlin ready to welcome me. As I said earlier, Kim, Kaitlin, Olivia and our oldest, Ava, have witnessed the months of training leading up to this night. They’ve seen the runs in the mid-day summer heat, the evening runs after dropping a daughter at practice and more than anything, those early morning slogs well before the sun came up. My crew is a supportive and motivating bunch, perhaps best displayed in the questions they ask about the distance or what I experienced on the run. I’ve always tried to not let my training get in the way of our family. On some occasions, it’s inevitable and they have grace for me. On one occasion, Kim and I ran together during Kaitlin’s swim practice. I tripped on a rock and did my best impression of a hands-first slide into 3rd base. The questions I got after that were comical, oh, and of course supportive.

As soon as Kim and Kaitlin saw me, they were as supportive as can be which was great because I felt like garbage, I felt defeated. Again, it’s the motivation of seeing them after being there for this entire journey. Their presence was an unspoken encouragement to keep going; they haven’t left me. They voiced their pride for the mileage saying I was almost there and I was doing great. They started to organize things for me to minimize the decisions I had to make. Kim asked what they could get for me. I don’t remember my words exactly but I do remember asking for new hips as mine were shot. It was immediately after I said that when I leaned over with a new realization. With my hands on my knees, I uttered the statement that even as I write this, makes me realize how dusty the air around me is. For the first time that night, I said, “I can’t go out there again. My hips hurt so bad. I’m done.” There it was, I said it. I verbalized what I’d been feeling and had managed to keep to myself. I fear ever finding myself in a position where I can’t dig a little deeper to achieve something, whatever that something might be. On this night, in that moment, after 15 laps of the Lake Haigler 12-hour, I was ready to quit. Just shy of hitting my 50-mile goal, I was ready to get off my feet and if left to myself, I’d justify doing so.

I knew Kim would still love me, she’d understand. Kaitlin, Ava and Olivia would still love me and no matter what, they’d still think dad’s crazy. I greatly appreciate their love and support. On this night, at this moment, I was done. Or so I thought.

After hearing me repeat myself while Kim and Kaitlin tried to provide enough encouragement for me to go secure one more lap, Jeff had heard enough from me. He broke the exchange and made me realize I wasn’t done. He can be an emotional guy but void of that Spiderman energy, perhaps because he’d just finished running four laps with me, essentially a half-marathon, he said, “Drew, it’s time to go. Let’s go.” No yelling. No language. No pleading. No congratulatory encouragement. It was a brief statement that tapped into the trust we’d built over the years. His words hung in the air, I stayed in my position of surrender for another moment, then turned to my left looking at him and said, “Ok, let’s go.” I stood up, threw down more chicken and pasta, refilled the water bottle with Tailwind, looked at Kim and Kaitlin then back and Jeff and nodded. We walked back to the gravel and turned left to begin the dark journey down the road marking the start of another lap, lap 16.

We weren’t sure if this was going to be the last. After the last few moments, it sure seemed likely but with enough time on the clock, it wasn’t a guarantee. So, as if it were the first lap, we walked the hills and ran the rest. We made our way to the base of the narrow up-hill on the back side of the 5K course. It had become familiar ground but this time was different. I had been commenting to Jeff on this lap that it was going to be my last. He said enough to not discourage me but wasn’t quite ready to let me call it. After all, he was with me until I hit the target, 50 miles, and at the conclusion of this lap, I’d be there. Halfway up this hill, I grabbed a small tree to my right and my legs were so weak, my body swerved right to left. Over the next few steps, the swerving was repeated and I realized how weak my legs now were. We got to the top of that hill and I told Jeff it was over. I no longer felt safe enough on my legs to attempt another lap. He recognized the concern in my voice and we agreed this would be the final lap but we still had a challenge in front of us. We were almost 1.5 miles from the finish line and no one was coming to get us. What’s more, your mileage didn’t count unless you complete the lap. We had to finish the lap and if we chose to walk it out, it’d take longer. So, we started to run…again.

Not long after our conversation, I heard it again. The stumble followed by the slide. You guessed it, he went down and again told me to keep going. It took a few more seconds for him to catch up to me once getting to his feet and as we would later learn, a twisted (possibly sprained) ankle could be to blame. We hobbled our way around the final mile and made that sharp left turn to start that final climb to the finish. As before, we walked the first part but after all this, Spiderman wasn’t going to let me walk to the end. Like with so many events we’d done over the years, you drag, you carry or pull, whatever you have to do, but you do not walk, across that finish line. So, we ran, or something that felt like running. I saw Kim and Kaitlin at the top of the hill and gave them the signal, drawing a line with my hand across my throat signaling to them I was done. There was a sense of accomplishment and a tremendous sense of relief as I told the race director, Andrew Block, #202, is done after 16 laps.

I looked down at my watch and saw my total mileage, 53.5 miles. I looked at Kim, told her and she took the picture, knowing I’d want to hold onto this one. Her and Kaitlin hugged me and I felt the accomplishment I’d been training for.

I looked at Jeff, gave him a hug and thanked him for running with me the entirety of those final five laps but most importantly, for not letting me quit on my goal, not letting me quit on myself.

After a few minutes recapping the memories and sharing a few laughs, I told the race director we were going to begin making our way back to the tent and slowly start to pack up. I was met with a comment I definitely wasn’t ready for. They asked us to come right back after getting what I needed because they think I finished 3rd in the men’s division. You could only imagine what went through my mind. After months of training and trying to quit after 15 laps, I couldn’t imagine that was even possible. After everyone was off the course, I asked them again and they confirmed it, I finished as the 3rd place male, 4th overall with a total of 16 laps in 11.5 hours. Now dressed in a sweatshirt and a hat to hold the heat in, I posed with my 3rd place owl.

It’s taken me a few weeks be in a place I could write this. When sitting by myself thinking or talking with Kim about November 18, 2023, it is still a bit overwhelming. The commitment to a goal is normal for me. The quitting on myself however, is not. That is overshadowed by Jason, Luis and Jeff joining me for the laps they did, helping me to achieve a goal I had set out for myself. This wasn’t their goal, it was mine. Yet, they knew I’d be in a better position if I wasn’t running the race alone. It’s quite a metaphor for this life we live. Our society has begun to talk about the isolation present, especially for men. It’s become a bigger issue these last few years. I’d argue men are more isolated than they’ve ever been, despite the lie that we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. Connected digitally isn’t connected at all, not the way men need it. We need to be in physical community with other men, learning from each other, challenging each other, sharpening each other, sharing with each other. It doesn’t have to be a 50-mile race or a weekend-long endurance event. But, imagine if you had a man or a small group of men, you could rely on. Men you could rely on to push you to be a better version of yourself. Men that knew you were capable of being a better husband, leading your family the way it was intended. Men that knew if you started to keep score in life, they would look you dead in the eye and call you on your selfish immaturity. Men that wouldn’t let you quit. Those men exist but I’d argue it starts with you willing to be a man like that for someone else.

My stomach is back to normal, my hips, legs and feet have recovered and Jeff’s ankle is slowly healing. Yes, November 18, 2023 is a great memory for me and serves as a reminder of what the body is capable of. While I happily share my experience, it’s the months of support from Kim and our daughters, the impact of the men who joined me that day supporting my effort, and one man’s unwillingness to let me quit, that highlights the experience. It is this that empowered me to achieve this goal; completing a 50-miler.


Spiderman (left), Maximus (right)

5 3 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x