Seriously. Two years ago, Jeff Grabosky ran from coast to coast on a prayer-fueled spiritual journey covering up to 60 miles per day pushing a stroller filled with his belongings.
Months of foot travel later, he finally made it to the West Coast from California and like any sane person would do, he wrote a book about his incredible experience. “Running with God Across America” is a personal story of love, loss and ultimately, life found in relying on God and pounding the pavement from sea to shining sea.
When a woman I knew, Kristina, told me about about her brother’s book — asking if I wanted to a copy to review it — I obviously said yes instantly. HELLO! Ultrarunning, God, a memoir? These were all up my ally and perfect for The Sweet Life too.
I knew immediately I wanted to interview Jeff — a privilege to meet the man who took on such a feat as running across the country in obedience and total reliance on God. Rather than bore you with my boring commentary, I’ll take you to the man himself — who answered all my pesky questions about what inspires and what it takes to run 20-60 miles per day for months on end! (Oh and by the way, Jeff says his “go to shoe” is the Mizuno Wave Rider so…that’s saying something for them!)
How did you know this was the specific thing God was calling you to do?
God speaks to everyone in different ways. For me, it was just kind of a pull on my heart. I was nervous but when I felt called to leave my job run a couple of 100 mile races, it really scared me. After my 2nd 100-mile race, I couldn’t get it out of my head so I prayed about it more — and still felt nervous — but once I made the decision, “Okay I’m gonna do this,” I felt absolute peace.
What made you do 100-milers in the first place?
After my lung collapse, I felt like I was being called to something more — that I wasn’t thinking big enough. Even just walking was hard then, but I prayed about it and felt that same calling. I didn’t want to do it but I said [to God], “If this is Your will, I’m gonna do it.” I showed up, I didn’t have a crew, just went down to Texas for the race on my own. When I finished, I realized it was something I was supposed to do. When I look back at the marathon for charity and seeing how I felt doing something for someone else….doing those longer races by myself were all gearing me towards this. Now, I can see what a beautiful plan that was to get me prepared.
How long did it take you to plan the route across America?
It was a brutal. I quit my job in Aug 2010 and moved in with family. From August until October, I was planning logistics. Where would I be when I would need shoes next? What gas station would there be along desolate areas? What supplies would I need? It was a logistical nightmare. After planning, that was the hard part. The running was the easy part. It took about 6 months to have it all in line.
How did you decide how many miles to run per day?
My time frame was based on trying to get done to run a race in NYC with a friend. I think about that now (the 60 mile days), and it’s like me looking at someone else. I couldn’t do it on my own but you know how I did it (God). We mentally rpepare our minds for what we will do, whether its a 20-ile run or an ultra marathon…once I removed that mental limitation, it was unlimited. I could do anything.
Did you ever think you would give up?
I was hoping not but I thought maybe God had other plans…maybe I was just supposed to get part of the way and people would be touched by it …which would crush me. I had forsaken everything so I could do this. I wrote a letter to my family in case something happened…I thought maybe I wasn’t supposed to make it. That was tough. After the first 10 days or so, I had so many narrow misses and was in just the right place at just the right time…I quickly believed that He was going to bring me to the finish. I always had a peace about it after that.
Jeff often took photos when crossing state lines:
How did you mentally prepare for the long long days?
I tried to make a point of look at what I had done, even it was only 2 miles — that was 2 miles closer to the finish. I chose to stay present and I definitely failed at times. On that 60 mile day, I got through 30 miles and was like — I’m not even halfway done…that just makes your heart sink.
What did you do when you felt physically drained?
I had a few of those, a few in the dessert and just stopped and said “I have nothing left.” I just prayed even harder. It seemed like the right prayer came up at the right time. I remember specifically a little girl battling cancer, and I thoght of praying for her. That suddenly put everyhting in perspective. That’s real pain, that’s real suffering. If they can get through that, I can get through this. I could never do this on my own. I just prayed for strength but somehow — day after day — through the grace of God, I did it.
What was a typical day of food like for you?
I woke up and usually had breakfast at a hotel, if not I’d just snack on a couple of bananas. I didn’t like stopping so I would eat as I ran: Clif bars, moon pies, I would often stop at a station to get whatever they had, high calorie things….baked croissant that had like 420 calories and things like that.
How many calories did you eat/burn per day?
I tried to 8-10,000 calories on average.
Depended on my mood…I’d stop at Pizza Hut and get the biggest one…I loved the Hawaiian pizzas there. I had a lot of sausage, meat lovers, as many toppings as I could to get, as many calories as possible. As much as I love food, I looked at things numerically at this point. The secondary title to the book was going to be “Pizza, God and Beer.” Being from New Jersey, no pizza really compares but I liked stopping at Pizza Hut, felt like it was more filling. I should have bought stock in them before I started running!
How did you stay focused on prayer during the run?
It was a struggle, especially during the dangerous stretches, so I’d take a break and let my mind wander and then get back to it. If I had something that came up during prayer, I’d just let it go and think about who I was praying for….reminded me why I was out there and putting my body through this. Especially early on, it was so overwelming. When the requests came in a night, I’d write on paper and fold up and go down the list the next day one by one when I was running. It was powerful…especially with 4 sheets of paper all filled up with thousands of requests.
How did you get the message out about what you were doing?
There were a couple of radio interviews beforehand, the Catholic news service put a story out right before I ran and some of it got picked up in Europe and South America so I had all these prayer intentions coming in in different languages. I had to have a translator. It was powerful. I did radio interviews on the way, I would also meet people on the way and ask them if there was anything I could pray for.
|Jeff ran with this stroller full of his stuff the whole way!|
Did anything happen that you didn’t expect?
In the book, you talk about seeing your Guardian Angel — tell me more!
I just had a feeling of another person’s presence out there. It was the middle of nowhere…it was the cotton fields, out of season, so it was that height. You could see for miles, it was very flat. I was only 25 miles into my 55 mile day. I just felt that someone else was around me so I looked back and there was this guy dressed in all white, he’s got a beard. I didn’t see what shoes he was wearing but I turned right back round thinking “this guy is nuts because he’s out here running” but then I remembered well, I’m out here too…but I would talk to anyone because it was so lonely out there. He looked like he was running pretty quick and I thought he was going to pass me so I turned around expecting him to be right there — but he was gone. I mean, I think about it and…he was bright, shining bright, wearing all white. I knew in that instant. I’ve had a couple things like that happen, same type of thing. I felt like I needed it because the next day is when I hit that dust storm…it was brutal, I felt so protected.
I didn’t consider not restarting. I considered getting a pair of crutches and just going to the nearest water somewhere. I never experienced anything like that in my life. I had to crawl upstairs. It was like Saturday night and I think I just told God, you’ve taken me this far, I’m not one to question you…whatever it is, you know this is something we planned to go to NY so…make that happen on your time. At that time, I just kind of turned it over to him. It was like 11am on Sunday morning…I felt called to get up and go but I walked 12 miles and it hurt. I had a doctor’s appointment Monday and they wanted to do a steroid injection but I said no. I ran 12 miles that next day. There’s no way I go from crawling up stairs to running 400 miles without God. It was so cool. After praying for others the whole time, an article came out in the Catholic Herald Arlington — people ewere saying they were praying for me and offering masses for me. That’show I made it. I have no other explanation.