Johnny “The People’s Champ” Carpenter
Up until relatively recently, when I ran I did so only grudgingly. Running was a fitness option to add variety. Three miles… package it up, take it to the house– two miles if it was pay day. That was my motto and I stuck to it. I take my mottos seriously. I’d hear people talking about running 4-5 miles, and I would think, “Why?! Why not three? Two, anyone?!”
But a few years back I ran into a group of folks that seemed to like to put an insane twist on just about any/every fitness activity. I started doing a little running with them at the track here, Umstead there. In fact, some of us even got to where we would run the SAS 5K regularly. Too many burn-outs on that course to recall them all. But I do recall one time in particular after completing the race, rolling around in pain on a picnic bench thinking, “Three point one miles. Agghh! Why Oh why not two? One?”
I guess I must’ve found myself out in Umstead one day with some of the group who were only interested in running 5 miles. I can’t recall if I tried to negotiate downward. Probably. But what’s certain is from that point onward I started running a little bit farther, but still never much if at all more than 5 miles. This would be either in the form of “suicides” or “out-and-back’s.”
Unfortunately, one fateful day a year and a half ago. I sustained a knee injury, probably resulting from an inadequate leg strengthening regimen, combined with a lack of a consistent stretching regimen. Fortunately, no surgery was required. But at the time the pain was so unbearable I couldn’t even stand up in my own front yard, which is of a steeper grade than most. And, of course, I couldn’t run. Not even 1 mile. I had to begin a prescribed set of leg strength exercises and stretches to be performed over the course of each week. And in January of 2014, I began a walk-run regimen also at the advice of the therapist, based on my having made good progress up till then. Thirty seconds slow jog, followed by two and a half minutes of walking. Each week I was to increase the jog interval by thirty seconds, and reduce the walk interval by the same. This was an agonizingly slow process toward achieving my goal of one day running again. “You wanted to run again?” I hear you ask. Yeah. Imagine. One of my friends had said, “Man, you’re starting from scratch.” But I had a plan and determination, plus encouragement of family and friends. And in twelve weeks I was back up to running three miles again with confidence and no pain.
It was at that point (and to this day I don’t know why) that Joel Alston, a.k.a. JP, co-founder of the Hype4Life and one of those original crazies from our early workout days, asked me if I was going to participate in one of the Spring races. It was like he was on a mission. He even found me a training partner (‘Sup, DNoiiiice!?!), and promised that he would also run in whatever race it was if I committed.
Well, many people know the story by now: I ran my first ever 10K…that June, the Raleigh Mid-Town. In under an hour. Unfortunately, due to some injuries himself, Joel wasn’t able to race. But that didn’t stop him. New mission… Joel: “When are you doing the Half?” Me: “Sorry, Bruh. I don’t do Half’s. I have zero interest in that type of…just…excessive…activity.” So he put “just the right people” to work culling through various race listings and websites. Till one day, Watz (a.k.a. Sarah) writes us: “Carolina Beach has got a half.” I was like, “Sarah, you don’t even *like* running! Why are you doing this man’s dirty work?! Haha! Thirteen miles? Woman, that is FAH! I’m talkin bout ‘a long, long way to run!’”
But what they couldn’t have known is that I love Carolina Beach. I love the beach. I loved fishing at the pier down at Wrightsville Beach with my pal and work mate Chuck Dub; And I love touristy, sometimes shady, Myrtle Beach; Emerald Isle, too. I love the remoteness of Duck…Nags Head…Rodanthe…Waves. So that is how the ball began to roll. If I would run 13.1 miles anywhere, it would be at Carolina Beach. We trained for twelve weeks across the summer using a program that my buddies EZ (H4L) and Bex pointed me to. Some of those runs included the very same “suicides” at Umstead. But this time I was ready for the physical stresses. One day I logged my fastest 4 miles up till that time: Average pace 7:24. *I* was happy with it anyway. We also did several runs along the stretch of the Tobacco Trail to the South and North of Southpoint Mall in Durham. Shout out to Bean Traders and the Phunky Monkeys that refreshed us up in “Derm” (as Ice pronounces it). It all went by in a flash it now seems. So that early on a crisp October morning down in Carolina Beach, we did the doggone thang! Me, Watz, DNice, Al B, Constance, and, of course, JP “Ball So Hard!” Alston! Amazingly, I placed 3rd in my age group. Never saw it coming. Never would have, in a million years.
After that race, we all kind of had different takeaways about distance running, specifically, 13.1 miles and higher. Some said never again. Some said maybe. Me, personally? I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure what I thought. I do have another motto, though. It echoed in the corners of my mind over the course of the next 4-8 weeks: “I don’t eat half of an egg. I don’t eat half of a sandwich…” It was this philosophy, early support of my family and additional encouragement from my co-worker Bex that pushed me to my next evolution and galvanized my conviction to do what I would do next. The Full Marathon.
I don’t think anybody had any idea what kind of winter it would be. After signing up for the marathon, I ran maybe a couple training runs with Jon and Bex. Then the weather turned very cold and dicey. And it stayed that way for four seemingly never-ending months and didn’t ever really warm up till weeks after the race date had come and gone. The common theme became trying to avoid the coldest of the weather. That essentially came to mean differing schedules, and a long, lonely training season out in the worst of the elements. On one day twenty miles alone in the rain. On another, twelve miles starting with rain, sleet and snow. Ten miles on the treadmill, when roads, trails and sidewalks were too treacherous to risk footing.
Hitting the wall on one particularly hard training run. Demons. But it all paid off at the end. On race day I completed the Allscripts Tobacco Road Marathon in three hours, thirty-two minutes, averaging just over 8 minutes per mile for the entire 26.2. It had taken a year, marked from the last few weeks of my rehab up to marathon day. And in that year I had recovered from a debilitating injury, run the SAS NEHFD 5K; run my first 10K, run my first Half-Marathon, *and* run my first Full Marathon.
It took a tremendous amount of my own discipline, my own personal sacrifice and many, many hours of my own sweat–to complete the marathon training. And then the race itself. But I’d be lying if I said I think it still would’ve happened if Joel had never pestered me about the 10K and the Half. Many thanks to him and the Hype4Life fam for not only that but the encouragement and motivation to build that invaluable momentum. As for me, I don’t have to ask any more, “Why do it?” Because I know the answer, and it’s one I can appreciate now better than I ever could…even a year ago: “Because I can.”
As for why JP did what he did? Still don’t know. Maybe he just likes to see people enjoy their true potential. Ball so hard, JP! Ball so hard.