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How I became a Joggler

Posted Aug 04 2012 12:35am

One of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I’m a joggler is “how did you get started joggling?” Here’s my story.

To become a joggler you need to have a certain appreciation for running and you have to learn to juggle. While I don’t remember much about my proclivity for running in my early childhood, I do remember what sparked an interest in it, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award . I was a competitive child, no doubt spurred on by the fact that I was the third boy in a family of 7 children. So when my school introduced the fitness test I took to it right away. The test required you to do a certain number of pull-ups, situps, pushups and run a certain time in the 50 yard dash. When I was in first grade, I won the challenge and a patch that came along with it. As a kid I was proud, especially since neither of my older brothers had ever accomplished that. 

In the 50 yard dash, I had run faster than any other first grader in my school. Then the next year, I did the 50 yard dash faster than any other second grader. I did it in 7.2 seconds. Unfortunately, I tripped at the finish line and broke my collar bone. But despite the setback, I developed this sense about myself that I was a fast runner. I’ve never really lost that perception.

My family moved to a different town when I was in third grade and I continued to do well in the yearly physical fitness test. And while I wasn’t always the fastest kid in school, I was one of the fastest. Unfortunately, I never practiced and relied only on my natural ability. I faded into averageness & didn’t even join the school’s cross country team. It didn’t help that the gym teacher was not a fan of mine.

In 5th grade, I was introduced to juggling. We had a school assembly and a couple of guys from JuggleBug taught everyone how to juggle. I loved it! I went home that night and practiced juggling ping pong balls for more than four hours. I kept at it for two straight weeks until I had the cascade pattern down perfectly. My parents were kind enough to get me a set of bean bags from JuggleBug and I bought the book, The Complete Juggler. I loved this book! For weeks, I practiced all the time. I learned all the three ball tricks in The Complete Juggler and was extremely pleased. There was no one in my school who could juggle better than me and I developed this sense that I was a great juggler. I’ve never really lost this either. 

Incidentally, it pleases me to no end that I am facebook friends with Dave Finnigan who is the author of The Complete Juggler (and I believe one of the guys who did the juggling assembly.)

I continued to juggle but wasn’t nearly as obsessed with it after a many months. I couldn’t think of any new tricks and there really weren’t any jugglers to learn from. This was in the 1980′s before computers, the Internet and YouTube. Also, video games and computers became an obsession.

When I entered high school, I joined the basketball team and in the spring, the track team. Most people joined the baseball team but I just wasn’t good enough for that. I enjoyed the track team. I still had this sense that I was a fast runner and I was (at least on my team). I specialized in the sprints 100, 200, and 400m dash. Later, I picked up the long jump and the hurdles. Unfortunately, this meant that I developed the notion that I was a sprinter and not a long distance runner. The farthest I would ever run was a mile. This didn’t have a positive effect on my running abilities.

I was an average track runner. I was one of the faster people on the team but in truth, there weren’t many people on the team. When I was a senior, I won the Most Valuable Player award but I was the only senior on the team so kinda got it by default. I won some races but no one would ever have called me great. I just never took it very serious. My final race in my high school track career went like this. It was the Lisle Relays and I was running my 4th race of the day, the 110 high hurdles. I didn’t have much chance of winning but I really wanted to break the 16 second barrier which I’d never done before. (The winners were running 14 second races). I remember it clearly, the gun went off, then it went off again. False start. They reset everyone because in those days the first false start was just a restart. We lined up again, the gun went off, and then off again to stop the race. False Start. The judge pointed to me and I was disqualified. Thus ended my track career and my interest in competitive running.

In college, I had no interest in running. A couple of times I went for a jog with some of my friends but I didn’t like it at all. Running became too painful and uninteresting to me. My interest in juggling however, was rekindled. This was probably because I developed an obsession for learning magic tricks and the magic store I went to Magic Inc, had a significant juggling section. I bought a few more bean bags and decided I would learn to juggle 5. It took me a few months but I learned. Never really ventured past the 5 ball cascade but I got pretty good at it anyway. I juggled at parties and sometimes at the quad. Unfortunately, I never met anyone else who juggled so I was pretty much alone in the activity. It occurs to me that back in those days it was really hard for jugglers to connect with other jugglers. There just weren’t any clubs that I knew of in Chicago.

In 1992, I discovered the International Jugglers Association and immediately joined. It was only $25 and it came with a subscription to Juggle magazine. I really just liked telling people that I was a card carrying member of the IJA. I went to my first regional festival in Madison, WI, Madfest . It was great. I had never seen so many jugglers in one place in my entire life. And more importantly, I had never seen so many excellent jugglers in one place. Since I was the only juggler I knew, I really thought I was great. I wasn’t. Compared to real jugglers, I was average at best. There were people doing tricks that had never even occurred to me. There were people passing clubs, juggling 6, 7, 8, and even flashing 9. It was amazing. I was just blown away by the tricks I saw.

And I was also slightly discouraged. I knew how hard it was for me to learn to juggle 5 and I couldn’t figure out how people could do any of their tricks. I also wasn’t able to put in the time required to get good at tricks. The people in my life were not completely supportive of my juggling activities and I wasn’t interested enough to get better. To develop as a juggler, it helps to be surrounded by people who are also interested in it.

While my interest in juggling was reignited, my interest in running was also restarted. This was a result of deciding that I wanted to live until 107 and discovering that the way to do that was to exercise. The book, Fit or Fat had a huge impact on how I viewed exercise and eating. The message I got from the book was that to be healthy, all you needed to do was to run for 15 minutes a day. And that’s what I started doing. Every day I would get home from work and run for 15 minutes. In 1993, I got a dog (named Ruthenium) and I took her along on my runs. She would bolt out and drag me for the first half mile, then we would run together. Steadily, she would slow down until I had to pull her for the last quarter mile. I enjoyed running with Ruthenium.  She was a great dog. 

In 1996, a co-worker told me about a 5K race she was running, the Y-Me 5K. I had never thought of running a race before but she made it sound fun. I signed up and did it without any additional training beyond my daily 15 minute runs. My finish time was something like 24:30. I felt pretty good about it. Then I compared my time with my younger brother and sister and both of them seemed less impressed. My younger brother could run a 5K in 19:00 and my sister could do a sub-22. I was inspired to get faster.

The rest of that summer, I did a couple more races and improved my time to under 22 minutes. I still couldn’t beat my sister though. Then at a party in July, my high school friend said she was going to do the Chicago Marathon and suggested I do it too. My sister and I agreed it would be fun and decided to do it. I got a training schedule but didn’t really want to put in the time the program called for. So, I followed my own training program. This consisted of me running however far I felt like any day. Mostly, I ran my 15 min runs but occasionally I’d do a 7 or a 9 miler. My long run was an 11 mile from my house to the lake and back. My first big test was the half marathon in Schaumburg. I’d never run 13.1 miles but it felt pretty good.

I should point out at this time that I really didn’t like running much. I didn’t mind the 2 mile daily runs but going for longer distances really hurt. I didn’t like it one bit. But I did want to finish a marathon and even do it in under 4 hours.

Somewhere along the line I got the idea to juggle through the finish line of the marathon. I’m not really sure where I got the idea, maybe I just thought it up myself. I know I was inspired by seeing people cross the finish line of a marathon doing something wacky, a handstand, a cart wheel, somersault, or some such thing. I thought juggling past the finish line would be great. I didn’t even know it was called joggling at the time.

To practice, I decided I would try joggling the last half mile of the half marathon. I had tried joggling during some of my short training runs but didn’t do it too much. Mostly, I didn’t like doing it for too long. It required too much concentration and was a bit annoying. So, in the half marathon I held my old JuggleBug bean bags and cracked them out in the final half-mile. It felt great to have the crowd cheer wildly as I crossed the line while juggling. My time was about 1:45 which made me pretty excited about my chances of running a sub-4 hour marathon and maybe even a 3:30. Of course, I took too much confidence from that half marathon and didn’t train much more, never running more than 12 miles.

When marathon morning came around, my sister and I took the train to the start and were amazed by how crowded it was. In fact, it was so crowded we weren’t able to make it to the back to enter the starting corrals. My sister hopped a fence and I squeezed through an opening a little further down. We were going to run together but got separated. I didn’t see her the rest of the race.

When I made it into the race, the crowd slowly pushed our way across the start line. However, it was really crowded and I wasn’t able to do much more than jog slowly. I held my juggling bean bags in my hand with the intention of juggling them in the last half mile. Then someone asked me about the bean bags and I demonstrated that I was going to juggle them. People around me smiled and cheered. Since I was moving so slow anyway, I just kept juggling (or joggling as I would later find out it was called).

Then other runners started asking me how long I was going to do that. “I’m going to juggle the whole way,” I eagerly said. I had no intention of doing that but it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I kept at it. When I tired of juggling I stopped. Then when I saw a big crowd of people, I started up again. I finished the last half mile juggling but probably juggled about 19 miles of the whole thing. I only had 5 or 6 drops.

My finish time was 4:02. My sister finished a few minutes ahead of me.

But I was inspired. The crowd responded really well to the joggling. It made the experience so much more interesting for me. I felt inspired and decided the next time I did a marathon I would try juggling the entire way. It turned out this would be a year later in the 1997 Chicago marathon.

The next year, I did a lot more races. I got my 5K time down to 20 minutes and my 10K time to 42 min. In all of these races, I tried juggling. There were times when I didn’t juggle the entire way but mostly I did. A good race was one in which I could say “no drops and no stops”. The next Chicago marathon was slightly slower for me (4:05) but I juggled nearly the entire time. I didn’t quite make it the entire way juggling so decided to try again the year after.

In 1998, I started out with bean bags but dropped two of them right past the start line and was unable to pick them up. I was nearly trampled. This was the first marathon I ran with almost no juggling. My finish time was right around 4 hours. It turned out joggling didn’t really affect my time much.

After that marathon, I discovered that I liked having a race to train for each fall. I got it in my head that I wanted to run 44 marathons. So, each March I would restart my running and in the fall would do the Chicago marathon. I still never trained much. I just didn’t like running and 20 mile training runs never appealed to me. My times still hovered around 4 hours but in 1999 I made it the whole way juggling.

In 2004, I discovered the world record time for joggling a marathon was 3:20. Since I was able to finish a marathon in 4 hours while joggling without much training, I thought that 3:20 was beatable. So, in 2003 I trained. I began joggling every run and even did some of those dreaded 20 milers. This was also the year that I started to finally like running. Can you imagine it took 7 years of running before I actually liked it? 

After a summer of hard training, I finished joggling the Chicago marathon in 3:25 min. Despite knocking 30 minutes off my fastest marathon time, I still missed the world record by 5 minutes.

In 2005, I got down to 3:22 missing the world record by 2 minutes. Fortunately, I suppose because it turned out that Michal Kapral had already lowered the world record to 3:07 minutes in September of that year. Then Zach Warren lowered it to 2:58 in 2006 putting the marathon joggling world record pretty much out of my reach. I was getting older and training was harder.

Around this time I started blogging. My first blog was about euchre but then I thought joggling would make a pretty good subject. So, JYAJ was born. At first it was a chronicle of my joggling activities but then it branched out more of a “how to run”, “how to joggle” and “how to be healthy” blog. It’s gone through a number of changes and I’ve taken a little time off here and there but I’ve continue write posts regularly. 1411 to be exact. I have no plans to stop and would actually like to expand the joggling blog to include a podcast and training videos.

Since the marathon record was out of reach, I set my sites on the 50 miler. That record was set by Ashrita Furman and was 8:52 which seemed a reasonable target for me. I trained hard and in November of 2007, I broke the world record for the joggling 50 miler finishing in 8:23:52. And although it took over a year to get certified, it eventually was. I have the certificate and even got listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012. Happily, the record still stands today.

I’ve thought of other world records like juggling every leg of a triathlon or joggling >100 miles but I haven’t mustered the energy to train for those…yet.

When I started trying to break world records, I embraced the persona of a joggler. I no longer simply ran, but instead joggled every race and training run. Then I hit on the idea of streak running. There is the United States Running Streak Association and it seemed like a pretty good challenge to run at least one mile each day. And I did it from January 2007 until April 2008…444 days. It was a relatively easy accomplishment but I was proud I stuck with it.  I stopped the original streak because I had already eclipsed my 1 year goal and the number 444 was a pleasing one to end on.  I’m a huge fan of palindromes and the number 4.

But by November of 2008, I missed the streak. My joggling was erratic and the streak kept me motivated. So on November 18, 2008, I began my current streak. Originally, I was only going to keep it up for 1001 days (I like palindromes) but when I got to the 1001st day, I didn’t feel like stopping. Now, I’m at >1350 days and have no plans to stop.

So, that’s my joggling story. Joggling has been very good to me. I’ve met dozens of jogglers around the world and have had the opportunity to be written about in newspapers, in books, and even had a chance to be featured on TV and radio. I’ve gotten smiles and cheers from thousands of people and have even managed to inspire other people to joggle.

I’m a joggler and plan on joggling for the rest of my life.

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