Dom Volini, the creative director at Ten Thousand, conceived of the idea to outlast a Tesla. His initial vision was that several people would take on the challenge as a relay. But instead, I decided to take it on alone. Well, as the lone runner. There’s no way I can say that I completed this alone. It took a team of amazing people to get me over the finish line.
I was drawn to this challenge for a couple of reasons. First of all, I had become fascinated with the 200+ mile distance ever since following the inaugural Cocodona 250 race in 2021. I was itching to put my legs to the test. Secondly, I found the idea of man vs. machine super intriguing. Being a big fan of old country music, I kept returning to the story portrayed in Johnny Cash’s song The Legend of John Henry's Hammer. This song tells the story of John Henry competing against a steam-powered rock drilling machine. To attempt a modern-day version of this storyline seemed like a worthy pursuit for me. Being an iconic symbol of modern innovation and progress, a Tesla car was a perfect counterpart.
In the months leading up to the challenge logistics were quite dynamic and with each evolution, the task became more daunting. For example, the original route was a flat course out in the West Texas plains. But for convenience, we changed location to the not-so-flat Texas Hill Country, adding thousands of feet of elevation gain. We also assumed the temperatures would be moderate, but we were instead blessed with one of the hottest Texas Aprils in years. Also, let me remind you that I had volunteered to take on the challenge as the solo runner, and the furthest distance I had ever run was 100 miles in a single effort. Even though we weren’t sure exactly how far the Tesla could go on one battery charge, we knew it would be at least twice the distance of my personal distance record. What had started as a good challenge had evolved into a genuinely audacious undertaking.
I was adamant about Texas being the backdrop for this challenge from the very beginning. As I continue to take on challenges, I must select places that interest me or that I have a connection to. Texas has a lot of both. My mother's family lived outside of Dallas and when I was growing up, we would spend summers and most holidays there. My grandfather, though born in Brooklyn and raised in the southeast, was a proud Texan upon moving to the state in his early 40’s. Like most Texans, he would quickly tell you how Texas had the biggest and best of everything. Now, I know that to not be true, especially with the current politicians in office. But I have always appreciated the lore and grit that comes with Texas. Few places I've been to have such a strong sense of identity. My grandfather's love and pride for Texas wasn’t lost on me. I always loved the time I spent there as well. I settled in Austin for ten years, from the age of 23 to 33, and it is a time of my life that left a deep imprint on me. It was the place where I celebrated my 20s, met my wife, and found running. I loved every second of it and was only persuaded to move away by the alluring mountains of Colorado.
On the morning of April 11th, just outside of Fredericksburg, TX, I lined up next to a Tesla Model 3 to see if I could outlast its battery life. The Tesla would take off on a predetermined route and go until its battery died. I would follow the same route with the goal of surpassing the marooned car within 72 hours.
Over the next 3+ days, a few themes emerged. Revisiting something repeatedly creates the space for growth. I’m always looking to come out the other side a stronger and more appreciative person.
My first obstacle was overcoming negative narratives in my head. It’s easy to know that negative thoughts do not have positive impacts on performance, mental headspace, or on those around me. But in the moment, they can be devilish to wrestle with. Most of my negative narratives were brought on by the car accident that occurred on Day 1 between my van and the production vehicle. Somewhere around the 50-mile mark, in the midday heat, the production RV smashed into my personal van at an aid stop. When I ran up to the scene, I was first struck by the level of damage and extremely concerned for the welfare of everyone involved. Though we did send some people to the nearest hospital to get a check-up, thankfully there were no catastrophic injuries. The crew continued to encourage me to keep moving and assured me that they would sort out the rest. Though I kept running, the wreck never left me.
Every time my damaged van passed me, I was thrown into a negative headspace. This happened every 5 miles, which was how often I was receiving aid. This headspace was one where I struggled to find silver linings and instead projected a lot of my negative thoughts outwardly. This was a huge mental barrier for me. Gratitude is usually one of the primary emotions I rely on during big efforts, and I struggled to find it and latch on. I know without a doubt this added much more weight to the entire effort than I would have had to bear had the accident not occurred. I can say a lesson was learned in the end. This setback allowed me to work through some of my negative thought tendencies and more quickly identify such patterns.
The second big theme this effort brought home for me was the importance of community. It is actually vital to surround yourself with good and inspiring people. I was acutely aware throughout every single mile of this endeavor that I was loved. If it wasn’t for those who were there to support me, I never would have made it those 242 miles. I feel immensely humbled by all of you, from Shelley, who is always there for me, to those that showed up just for a few minutes to show their support and root me on, to everyone in between. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. There is something deeply enriching about absorbing the energy and confidence of the people around me. That collective love helped me so much to overcome my negative emotions. That I am loved is what I hope to always remember and keep with me when times get hard. I don’t think there is a more important thing to know in life and something I hope everyone trusts is true for them too.
The third takeaway from this journey was just how harsh Texas can be. That state will chew you up and spit you out. There is nothing kind or soft about it. If it doesn’t bite or sting you, it will melt you. One would assume that by running on the shoulder of the road, you might avoid many of these dangers, but that is not so. I encountered them around every corner. I can’t even count the number of snakes (many of them rattlers) that my pacers and I had to avoid, with more than a couple near misses. The heat and extremely high humidity was so oppressive that it almost stopped me in my tracks many times during Days 1 and 2. There is no other element that negatively affects my performance more. Overcoming the heat took every ounce of my being and on more than one occasion, almost got the best of me. Ultimately, the race against a Tesla became a fight against Texas.
All in all, this effort was everything it needed to be, and I am happy to have done it. It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. In addition to the many lessons I learned out there, I also developed new creative ideas. One of the more interesting things that came out of it was solidifying the concept of The Audacious Report. Efforts like the Tesla Challenge bring to the surface many aspects of the human spirit that we can all learn from. I firmly believe that sharing pursuits like these with others invites us to revel in the depths and enlightenment of the human experience all together. This is why we tell the stories of those who choose to be audacious.