“I know any of the pain I feel … pales in comparison. That’s all the motivation I need.” #P2P Vol. 8: Brad Kloha
Brad Kloha is a 29 year old who lives in Mount Pleasant, Mich. and he has a mission: 100 races. 52 weeks. 1 goal: $1 million to support the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s one man’s journey to spread awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and the need for a cure through his Run To Remember initiative. He’s accomplished 78 races so far; just 22 more to go.
For Brad, running 100 races — which include marathons and obstacle courses like the Spartan Race — is about more than just supporting a cause he’s passionate about; this is his way of honoring the memory of his grandmother and great-grandmother, two women in his family who both succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. I caught up with him to discuss his initiative, what keeps him motivated and what response he’s seen since starting his very first race June 15, 2013.
Mark, get set, go.
What’s your mission?
“I’m trying to raise awareness and $1 million for the Alzheimer’s Association while completing 100 races in one year.”
How did this idea come about?
“I was driving back from the Spartan Race in October 2012 and I got to thinking about doing something on a grander scale to really reflect change in a cause I was personally passionate about. I wanted one that had touched me and my family personally, because my great-grandmother and my grandmother passed away from the disease. I didn’t really want to put on my own race because there’s a lot of work and money that goes into those, so the idea came up to run races that are already out there.”
So, you decided to run 100 races?
“It started out as 52 races in a year, but that didn’t sound like enough. So I decided on 100 races.”
That definitely sounds more difficult.
“It was going to originally be called Muddy for Memories because I wanted to run mostly obstacle races. But then I knew I needed to add regular runs in order to hit that goal of 100 races in a year, so that’s how it became Run To Remember.”
That’s how it all started. You were coming back from a race and started this huge thing.
“Yeah! Apparently, if you give me some time in a car for a little while I’ll let my imagination run wild.”
And all of a sudden you put your body through torture for a year.
“Yep! I just start putting my body through hell.”
How has your body been holding up since you started all of this racing?
“At the beginning, it was responding really, really well. I was doing so many races back to back to back. At the 25-race mark, in the matter of a couple of months, I was starting to wonder if I should have made it 150 races in a year.”
You said ‘at the beginning.’
“Once I got to Race 33 — the Vermont Spartan Race World Championship, which was a 13-mile race up and down Mount Killington where we climbed a total of 20,000 feet over the course of the race — it hit me.”
“Coming down from that, there was a really technical portion of the trail where it was a single track and you’re trying to avoid trees, stumps, fallen logs, rocks and everything. I pulled a muscle in my glute at about mile three.”
“Right. I’m like ‘This is going to be hell the rest of the time.’ Then I came to the worst obstacle of them all — a 65 lb. sandbag I had to carry half a mile up the mountain and then half a mile back down. I expected the whole race to take four or five hours, but it ended up taking seven and a half hours just to get through. It was insane.”
And it’s gotten worse since then?
“Well, from that race with that injury, I haven’t given my body time to recover. That’s been the issue ever since. It’s just compounding on previous injuries.”
Side by side.
How do you pay for all of this?
“A lot of the things I’m doing come out of my own pocket — running my website, traveling to races, hotels, food, gas, rental cars. That all comes out of my own pocket.”
You don’t get any money from others to pay for it?
“I wanted to make sure that when I started this that someone donating to this knows their money is going to the Alzheimer’s Association and not me running.”
Where do you get your support?
“The biggest support for me has come from the races themselves. Before I started, I made some connections with people in the media portions of the obstacle races. They’ve gotten attached to what I was doing and that gets me free entry to races, which is huge because some races can be as much as $200 to race in.”
Do you pay for your own race gear, too?
“A few clothing gear companies, like 110 Play Harder, have taken an interest and sent me recovery gear. That and the free entry has cut back on my costs.”
And you do all of this while working full-time?
“Yeah. There are definitely times on a Monday morning where the last thing I want to do is go to work, especially if I flew in late Sunday night and have to be at my desk at 8 a.m.”
I can only imagine. How does your employer feel about what you’re doing?
“Central Michigan University — where I work — has been extremely supportive. I have vacation days, so they give me the time off that I need. I can take off Fridays and get where I need to go.”
It can’t be easy to do both, though.
“There’s days I come in when someone will tell me I look exhausted, but it’s never been a point where I will question whether or not I should have done it.”
Staying on track.
What motivates you to keep going with this?
“I think of what the families are going through at this point, what people who are fighting this disease now are going through, what my own family battled through. I know any of the pain I feel, or any exhaustion I feel, pales in comparison. That’s all the motivation I need.”
Is that what you think of when you’re running a race?
“Yes, but I have an arm sleeve that I look at. It has a picture of my grandmother and I on her final birthday before she passed away from Alzheimer’s.”
Why did you choose that picture?
“At that point, she had degenerated through a 13-year battle. She didn’t remember who any of us were at all, she wasn’t really talking. She wasn’t eating, she wasn’t able to take care of herself. There’s much happier photos I could have used, but that one has special significance for me.”
Why do you say that?
“At that moment, we hadn’t really had a conversation in a long time because she had forgotten who I was. So, that day on her birthday, while my mom was getting things ready I was sitting with her and trying to talk to her. My mom made me laugh at one point. When I laughed, my grandmother had grabbed my arm, looked at me and her eyes were clear. I could see that recognition. She tried to talk, but she couldn’t … so she started to cry.”
“A few seconds later, she went back to how she was as though nothing had happened. That was the last moment where I knew that deep down, my grandmother was still there. That was my reason to keep fighting. So, if I’m tired or hurting during a race I look down at that picture and that’s my motivation.”
When did things get really hard for your family?
“In 2004, my grandpa passed away in June and that was when we saw a big decline. That’s when she started to get a lot more forgetful. We sent our dog to live with her to keep her company, but Thanksgiving of that year we picked her up for church. That’s when it got really bad.”
What happened that day?
“Well, because she wasn’t able to have Thanksgiving dinner at her house, she always made the stuffing for dinner. What we didn’t know when we picked her up is that she had started cooking before we had picked her up for church.”
“Yeah, we dropped her back off after and went back to our house next door, and then we heard the doorbell ringing. It was my grandma with tears in her eyes. She started screaming ‘My house is on fire!’ So, we took off running to her house and I went into the garage and opened the door to her house. Black smoke started billowing out. We called the fire department. My grandmother had caught up to me and told me Michael, my dog, was inside and she wanted me to save him.”
“I wasn’t thinking, so I went in looking for him and I crawled around the house for a while. I couldn’t find him.”
That’s so sad.
“The fire department came, but the house was a total loss. Walking her back, she cried about everything. She was talking about how my grandpa, who had already passed away, must have been really disappointed. That was really hard to see.”
What happened then?
“Once they put the fire out, they said we were lucky that nobody was there because the smoke was so toxic it would have killed anyone within 15-30 seconds. They found my dog later unburned in a spot behind my grandpa’s chair and said he probably passed away instantly from the smoke. And it was in that moment we realized that she couldn’t live on her own anymore.”
I can’t imagine how tough that must have been.
“It took a huge toll on the family. Watching someone like her, who was so selfless and kind, go through the struggles she went through was extremely hard. In addition to the time it took for my family to care for her, the emotional toll was the toughest.”
Nearing the finish.
How are people from these other states responding to your initiative?
“It’s been really great. When I first launched the idea in March 2013 before I started running in June, people from other states were reaching out to me and donating. There was a woman from Maine whose father had Alzheimer’s. She sent me some training clothes because she worked at an athletic store and wanted to make sure I was all set.”
Have you seen a lot more support as things have progressed?
“It’s gained more momentum as people pick up the story. I have a purple shirt with my logo and slogan on it, and it has my website on it so if people are behind me, they’ll read that and come up and ask me about it. People have responded extremely well.”
Is the racing community responding to your movement?
“Yeah, definitely. One of the biggest helps was Spartan Race getting a hold of the story. They created a YouTube video about what I was doing which received about 20,000 views. The week it came out, I was in New Jersey running one of their races and people were coming up to me. It was kind of cool to have people supporting all of that.”
What’s been your biggest surprise?
“What I didn’t expect was people coming up to me at races, or sending me emails, about their own families going through their battles. They’re happy that someone’s doing something, or they’ll say that I’ve inspired them to do something for a cause they’re passionate about. It’s been kind of cool that there’s been that effect of people not just following what I’m doing, but wanting to do things on their own.”
How do you feel starting a movement in memory of your grandmother and great-grandmother?
“What I wasn’t ready for, and I guess I should have expected it, was the personal attention of people wanting to create videos and talk to me about my story. I struggled with that a lot.”
Why is that?
“I wanted the attention to be on the Alzheimer’s Association, not on me doing these races. I met with the president of the chapter out of Midland and I said I feel bad. A lot of the stories focus more on me, and doesn’t necessarily always mention Alzheimer’s or it mentions it on the back-end. She said ‘That’s okay. Understand that all of the publicity that you get comes back to the Alzheimer’s Association.’ That helped me feel better about that personal attention.”
Are you used to it now?
It’s still odd to me if I go to a race and someone knows me. I have to remember that there’s different stories out there about it, and that was the whole purpose. It’s made me think ‘What do I do next?’ It’s not one of those things that I want to stop after I’m done with 100 races.”
So, what will you do next?
“I want to continue the advocacy and raising funds. I don’t think I’m going to do 200 races in a year or anything, but in terms of what I’ll do with Run To Remember once the races are over I’ll have to figure it out. At minimum, maybe I’ll turn it into an annual race around the day my grandmother passed away — June 18, 2011. There’s a lot of different avenues I can see it going, but I haven’t solidified what I’ll do from there.”
On getting through the effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“My family and I are strong believes in Christ, so really our faith helped us get through that emotional crush. We knew we had to deal with it as it came. We were meant to be able to handle what we were given, and we did it as a family.”
On family support.
“My family has been a huge support. My parents have gone to probably half my races. They’ll stand out in the cold while I’m running, and even though there’s not much to see, they’re still there.”
On his last race.
“I have my 100th race as a regular, traditional road race in Mount pleasant, Mich. so I can have my family, friends and people from CMU who have been there from day one be there at an event together.”
What’s the first thing you’re going to do after your 100th race?
“Well, before I decided to start the 100 races I wanted to do Death Race. Last year, it lasted 72-74 hours for most of the racers. There’s about 300 people who sign up, 200 who show up and 20-30 finish.”
Wow. What’s that like?
“Something you need to take is an ax, because you’ll be splitting wood for a while. Last year, they had to build this mile-long staircase with 300 lb. rocks. They worked on it from like 10 p.m. until 4 p.m. in the morning, and then the race started. They might have to memorize or translate something from Greek to English, then they’ll have to remember it for 24-48 hours. Then, when they’re exhausted and tired, they’ll have to repeat it — if they don’t, they have to go back and figure it out.”
“Yeah, I said when I turn 30, I want to do that. I turn 30 this year. So, two weeks after the 100th race, I’ll be out doing the Death Race.
Well, good luck on that. Don’t die.
“I’m hoping not. I get the crazy look from people about that a lot, and that’s okay.”
Brad’s story is a part of #P2P, a recently launched blog series that profiles the choices, risks and lifestyles of influential people I come across. For more on my personal journey with #P2P, subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to me on Facebook.