dailymiler of the week: Richard H.

Sometimes lacing up is an act of personal pleasure. We pound the pavement or kick up speed on a dusty trail, mile after mile, out of a desire to improve our experiences in life. Or maybe we’re working on our weight, attitude, energy or general health in some way. Other times, we jettison the solitary focus on ourselves, dig deep and expand the meaning and reach of our endeavors. Legendary track and field coach, WWII veteran and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman once said, “The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race; it’s to test the limits of the human heart.” Since November 2010, Richard H. has been the embodiment of the Bowerman quote every time he’s laced up and headed out for a run.

Ilona M: I’ve been following your progress for a while now, but you’ve been chipping away at this thing you call the 30/30 Challenge for some 20 weeks now. Can you explain what you’re doing?
Richard H.: Well, I just like to be reminded and remind others a tiny bit about some of the sacrifices others went and are going through to make us ‘comfortable’ in our daily lives. This 30/30 Challenge started between my buddy Derek S., who lives in Cleveland, and me just looking for a way to motivate each other to take our running to the next level. The challenge is that I make an attempt to run at least 30 miles per week for 30 consecutive weeks. It began on November 1, 2010, and is set to end on the day before Memorial Day: May 29, 2011. After completing my first run, I called Derek and told him that we needed something more. While I was motivated to complete this just to prove to him that I could, I didn’t think that was going to be enough to get through 30 weeks. I thought that if there was a way to dedicate each successful week to a military hero that would be even greater motivation. And so it began!

IM: Do you have a military background yourself, Richard?
RH: Well, I had no real familiarity with the military growing up. I had a grandfather who served in the Navy before he was married and had kids and an uncle who served four years in the Air Force before I can remember. I have a cousin who served ten years as an Army Airborne Ranger that I’ve always been pretty close to. I’ve always had a curiosity and deep level of interest in what it would take to be in the military and defend our country. But, through high school and into college, I suppressed the urge. I met my wife, Nicole, in college and we married after graduation. After finding random, low paying, frustrating, unfulfilling jobs in the business world, I went to Nicole one day and said, “I think we should consider signing up for the Air Force.” Surprisingly, she was completely on board!

IM: You enlisted in the summer of 2003, and your first three years were spent serving in Washington, D.C., first as a member of the Air Force Honor Guard performing full honor funerals in Arlington National Cemetery. Your service took you around the world to Germany, Italy, England, Ireland, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. In November of 2007, you transitioned from active duty airman to a position in contracting for the Air Force as a civil servant, which you’re still doing now for the Air Force Academy. How did all of this inspire your world view and, more specifically, set you on the path of your personal 30/30 Challenge?
RH: It forged an incredible amount of appreciation for and desire to spread the stories of the military heroes of our history, the ultimate sacrifices being born on the battle fields right now, and the men and women in uniform right here within our borders doing the necessary jobs to keep us secure. This is what motivates me to get out of my office and go run and compete 30 miles each week for 30 consecutive weeks. If Marcus Lutrell can take on multiple gunshot wounds, lose three Navy Seal comrades and still crawl for several days through the mountains of Afghanistan then I can get out there and complete my next run, no matter how much I don’t feel like it! That’s what motivates me to complete this challenge. The desire for longevity in order to be around for many years with my amazing wife and three perfect kids…that’s what motivates me to run.

IM: So, tell me a little bit more about yourself as a runner. Before embarking on your challenge, how many miles did you usually average per week?
RH: I first began running my junior year in high school. A friend of mine was running cross country. He told me it was fun and said I should come out to a practice and give it a try. I did, and the rest is history. I’ve never really stopped running since then. Lots of hiatuses from it took place over the next 15 plus years. I sort of fell in love with running all over again once I joined the Air Force and had to meet certain fitness requirements; that passion has held even after leaving active duty. I probably averaged less than 15 miles per week prior to this 30/30 challenge.

IM: What are some of the things that you think about when you run? Do you have any mantras you use to power you through each of those 30 miles?
RH: I think I’m a bit of an odd ball in this area. I very rarely listen to music. A large majority of the time I just like to hear my feet hitting the soil beneath. When I do take my iPod along it’s usually to listen to a book or podcast. TED Talks podcasts are among my favorites. I recently listened to the audio version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. See I told you I’m a bit odd here. When I’m out there free of the iPod it seems that I usually ponder conversations I need or would like to have with people. I’ve often thought about bringing some type of recorder with me. I feel like my mind is so clear of distractions that I think better out on the trails.

IM: How do you go about choosing who will be honored each week?
RH: This was easy in the beginning as I was able to start with family, like my grandfather and my father in-law. I was anxious to honor them as well as people like Marcus Lutrell, Bud Day, Pat Tillman etc. These are some of the heroes I’ve read books about. After that, I started asking colleagues, friends and family who some of their military heroes are. There has been a time or two where I would search something like “Korean War Heroes” and see what I could dig up. I’ve learned a lot about some great heroes who are almost forgotten about now.

IM: If you had any one thing to change about how you set about putting this personal challenge together, what would it be?
RH: I think the only thing is that maybe I would’ve tried to create an actual dailymile challenge to invite others to join. What would have been fun about this is getting stories from others about family members of theirs who are heroes that we would never know about except through the weekly postings. I think I’ll do it that way next year!

IM: What has been the most surprising or inspirational thing that’s happened since embarking on this journey with your friend, Derek?
RH: The first surprising thing, though not inspiring, was that Derek had to drop out. He has a very “unique” job and just wasn’t able to fit it in all the time. I still talk to him about it almost every day and he’s super supportive and helps motivate me. Every week I’m inspired by another great story of another great hero!

IM: Your wife seems to very supportive. How has she helped you through this experience? What do your kids have to say about what Dad’s doing?
RH: She’s amazing! Almost every weekend I need to get some more miles in order to finish for the week and she doesn’t complain. Her job, being home with the kids and providing invaluable quality time and lifestyle to them, is WAY HARDER than my job! I try to be sensitive to the fact that I’m away at work during the day 5 days a week. Luckily the Air Force has policies in place that allow me three hours of physical fitness time per week. I’m able to get roughly 3/4′s of my mileage in during this time alone. Sometimes I do it at the end of the day and go longer so as not to ‘need’ the miles that weekend. The kids are too young to really understand this challenge but they know how much daddy loves to run. Hopefully it rubs off!

IM: What is the one quote that most encapsulates what you aspire to be on your best day?

IM: After the challenge is completed, what will be the next milestone in your life?
RH: For running, it will be getting under 1 hr 30 min in a half marathon; and then in late October, maybe starting this over again with a few tweaks.

IM: What have you learned about running, and about yourself, through this experience?
RH: Running: I’ve simply gained an even deeper passion for it! About myself: I’ve learned that I hadn’t ‘dug’ into some of my past experiences. I never really understood the impact working in Arlington National Cemetery every day for nearly a year had on me until I started thinking more about the ultimate sacrifice some of these guys paid. I knew that, but I didn’t really KNOW that. Doing the dedications every week on dailymile causes me to think about why his/her story matters to me and what it might mean to whoever reads my posts. That forced me to reflect deeper into what I had experienced in paying honor to those I buried in Arlington. I was fortunate to be able to be so intimately involved in the military funerals of people whose story I’ll never know. This challenge, and the stories I’m sharing, have caused that past experience to now have a greater impact on myself – and hopefully what I’m doing can help others, too.

IM: The quote I opened our interview with is from the late Bill Bowerman. Known more for being the co-founder of Nike, an avid runner and successful running coach, he also served his country during WWII. Enlisting after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bowerman is credited with negotiating a stand-down of German forces at Brenner Pass just prior to the surrender of the German army in Italy. He received a Silver Star, a Good Conduct Medal and four Bronze Stars for his efforts. What do you think about this?
RH: The biggest thing about him that stands out to me and stirs the deepest sentiments of respect and honor is the apparent heart of this hero. Much like Pat Tillman, he answered the call at a time his country needed him. Even more impressive for both of these guys? It obviously would have been the easier choice to continue living the comfortable, successful lives they were leading. Married with two kids, teaching and coaching; yet Bowerman answered the greater call. I think every runner – whether they know it or not – benefits from the impact Bill Bowerman went on to have on our sport.

About Ilona M.

A Midwest-based digital journalist, author and 2011 dailymile team ambassador, Ilona loves trail running, forest hiking, road biking, open water swimming, free weights, meditation and yoga. Aiming to balance her love of motion with the sedentary and still pursuits of research and writing, she hearts dailymile because it keeps her moving, laughing, learning and growing.
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