Our friends over at Hyland's Active told us about Mike Ehredt, an Army veteran and father of two grown children who just completed an amazing running feat, and we wanted to share his story with you as we celebrate those who have served and are currently serving our country.
In 2010, Mike Ehredt ran from Oregon to Maine, stopping every mile to plant a small flag in memory of a fallen American service man or woman in the Iraq War. This year, Ehredt ran from International Falls, Minnesota, to Galveston, Texas, to set flags for those lost in Afghanistan, an undertaking dubbed Project America Run Part II. “There is no statement,” says Ehredt, an accomplished endurance athlete and former professional cyclist, “I’m just saying thank you. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just a genuine show of gratitude.”
Ehredt, who says if he wrote a book about his runs it would be titled, 13 Million Steps, finished his 6,550+-mile north-south journey yesterday, on Veteran’s Day. Last week he took a break to answer some questions via cell phone.
How does this compare to other epic undertakings you’ve done, like Eco-Challenge, the Marathon des Sables, and various 100-mile ultras?
They are so different. Whether it’s a 5K, 10K, 6-day race, it’s just for a certain amount of time and you can prepare for it a certain way. With this, it’s so out of the realm of normal, you just go with yourself and let your body adapt. I would much rather my kids remember me as a good father who did something extraordinary for someone else than otherwise achieve something grand athletically. For me, this means so much more. It’s pure. I gain a huge amount of satisfaction that I can do something for someone who can’t express in words back to me.
How do you take care of yourself: feet, nutrition, recovery, and such?
I’ve never had a problem with my feet: I’ve lost lots of toenails, but I’ve never had a blister. I’m very regimented: When I get done running, I have my chocolate milk. I’m big on liquid nutrition because it gets into my body quickly, and I can use it quickly. I’ve drunk 20 gallons of chocolate milk on this run. I also drink Ensure or Starbucks Frappuccino—I drink four or five bottles of that per day because I take in calories every hour, and I’m out running a minimum of five hours every day. I carry a mini foam roller, and roll my IT bands, calves, and quads. Then I do a little bit of stretching and get my feet up: I lay on the floor with my feet on the bed and I allow myself to mellow out.
How do you face down so many miles each day?
The important thing is to never look at the big picture: In Minnesota, if I thought about 6,550 miles, it would be overwhelming. To me, it’s like getting up and going to work—but work I absolutely love. I love waking up in someone else’s house, knowing I get to go out today to run. There’s never been a day where I didn’t want to go out and run 26 or 30 miles. It’s all been good. The first 10 miles go by in la-la land—I’m still waking up. Once I get past half-marathon point, then I think, “three more miles, then I’m in the single digits.” I always run the second part of each day’s mileage faster than the first. I never try to speed up or slow down—I tell people who run with me, “Mike’s got one speed.”
What's the most fulfulling part of the run?
Meeting the families who get to be a part of it. Then it connects a lot of people, then it’s not just Mike putting down flags. When people come with me, I have them plant the flag. Also, seeing the host families: They are the thread that keeps me going.
Do many people ask you what you’re doing?
Surprisingly few. No one is going to ask a guy pushing a stroller down the highway—they’ll think I’m crazy as hell. Ninety percent of the time, I’m by myself, just placing a flag down. But people never stop and ask: We get so compartmentalized in our own lives.
Any stories that stick out about particular flags/soldiers?
When I was on the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs from Nashville to Nachez, Miss., someone said to me, “When you get to Mile 338, taking a left and talk to the stone talker.” I did as he’d told me to do, and I came upon a chest-high wall—but it’s as wide as a lane of traffic. There’s this old boy sitting there, who said, “I heard of your coming, and I was hoping you’d stop by.” Turns out he’d been working on the wall for 36 years. It’s built from 25 million pounds of stone, and it winds through 12 acres of his property. He’d built a wall just like I’ve built a wall of flags. He said to me, “You found your journey; now sing your song.”