The Inside Lane: Inspired By The Impossible

Joel Runyon of San Diego plans to run seven ultra marathons on seven continents over the next year to fund the building of seven schools with Pencils of Promise. Photo: Courtesy of Joel Runyon

How do you use running to make a positive difference in the lives of others?

On an almost daily basis I get hammered with requests from runners to check out an epic run that they’re doing for charity or to raise awareness for this or that good cause. It’s like an endurance-themed ice bucket challenge arriving in my inbox every morning, and it’s awesome. I get inspired when I read about people who have chosen to use running as an avenue to do good for others, but unfortunately it’s unrealistic for me to cover every marathon, ultramarathon, cross-country trek or [insert your endurance endeavor here] challenge that comes my way.

But every once in a while a crazy quest will really catch my eye and cause me to ask a few questions, which is exactly what happened last week when Joel Runyon reached out to tell me about the launch of The 777 Project, which he describes on his website as “an endurance, adventure and philanthropic initiative to run 7 ultra marathons on 7 continents in order to raise money & awareness to build 7 schools with Pencils of Promise and provide opportunities to those for whom a basic education can be impossible.”

That last word, impossible, is what Runyon is all about. As the founder of Impossible Ventures, Runyon,a Chicago native currently living in San Diego, has focused his professional goals on helping small businesses improve their marketing efforts while simultaneously growing his own audience as a blogger and doer of “impossible” things. In 2009, Runyon started his Impossible blog as a way document his own life experiences in an effort to inspire others to push their own limits by pursuing goals they once thought were, well, impossible.

The 777 Project, he told me last week, is “more than anything a decision to just keep moving forward [with the "impossible" theme]. It’s really just about pushing your limits and seeing what you’re capable of while doing good for other people.”

Runyon, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 190 pounds, admits that he isn’t built like a runner, but says that hasn’t stopped him from setting bigger goals for himself year after year, starting with his first 5K in 2009 all the way up to his first ultramarathon, the Chicago Lakefront 50K, in October of 2012. In preparation for The 777 Project, Runyon will focus on building up the amount of time he spends on his feet in training while placing a heavy emphasis on recovery between races under the watchful eye of his coach, ultrarunning star Ian Sharman. ”I run because I like to find out what I’m made of and to see how far I can push myself,” Runyon says. “And I also run because I know it’s making a difference.”

In 2012, Runyon helped raise $26,496 to build a school in Guatemala through Pencils of Promise—a nonprofit whose mission of being a “for purpose organization” is centered on making a difference in the area of education—an effort he hopes to replicate on an ever grander scale over the next 12 months.

“It totally re-grounded me,” Runyon said of his experience helping build the school in Guatemala. “Seeing how we positively impacted the lives of kids for whom getting a basic education was viewed as an impossible goal is the most meaningful thing we’ve ever done.”

Over the next year, Runyon will line up for the Patagonia Ultra Marathon (50K) in Chile, the Ice Marathon 100K in Antarctica, The Kepler Challenge (37.2 miles) in New Zealand, the Ocean Floor Stage Ultra in Egypt (4 days, 160 miles), the Everest Ultra in Nepal (40 miles), the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy (119K) and finish with the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado next August. That’s a loaded lineup, even for a seasoned ultramarathoner—a fact that’s not lost on Runyon.

“My ability to do the races will depend on how diligent I am with my foam rolling routine,” jokes Runyon, who is self-funding the travel costs of the trip. ”But in all seriousness it’s will definitely be the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. Not just the training and the racing, but the fundraising aspect of it as well. At first I was really scared and now I’m just pretty scared, but I’ve got my work cut out for me. It’s on the edge of what I think is possible.”

Joel Runyon is an ordinary guy who is using running as a means to do extraordinary things, not just for himself but for others who benefit directly from his fundraising or indirectly through being inspired by his pursuit of “impossible” goals. Aside from benefiting a great cause, there’s an even greater lesson to be learned from Runyon’s upcoming ultra running pursuit: Whether you’re running to beat your personal best, to raise money for a charity or simply logging a few miles a couple times a week as a way to stay fit, go out and attempt the “impossible” in your life—push your limits, find a way to make a positive difference and inspire others to do the same.

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