What we cover: "You can do this. You will do this." -- Gary Robbins
Every once in a while you have a conversation with a person – a person so exceptional, that’s the only word for it – that the stories they tell are universal in that they tap into the humanity of it all. Gary Robbins is one such person and the conversation we had is one such chat.
Despite the fact that Gary is as decorated an ultra-distance runner as they come, this is an episode that explores deeper themes. A one-time self-admitted professional partier, Gary eventually traded in the cans of beer for a pair of running shoes, and embarked on a journey of personal transformation that is astounding to say the least. He walks us through what it felt like – the courage it took – to walk the road less travelled, to leave his home in Newfoundland in search of a non-traditional life and the decisions he had to make in order to stay true to that journey. He talks about the value in being in the right relationship when it comes to achieving an authentic life. And more than all this, he gives us a candid and inside look at quite likely this planet’s most mysterious adventure race, recently popularized by the Netflix documentary of the same name: The Barkley Marathons, a 5-lap, 100-mile course through the most unforgiving Tennessee terrain and in often-times the most bleak conditions imaginable. Gary, a two-time racer in this sadistic endeavor, walks us through the gritty details, what goes into preparing for it, how he handles the times of darkness – and his mantra: “You can do this. You will do this. You can do this. You will do this.” It will be a while before my fingernails grow back. He is an epic storyteller, which comes with being an east coaster, I suspect. To give you a sense of just how arduous the Barkley is, in its 30 years of existence, it has seen only 15 finishers. Fifteen. And yet today, people around the planet clamor to be selected as one of the 40 athletes who participate each year.
And while he certainly shares some vivid and heart-stopping imagery, the details which actually occasionally made me feel physically ill on account of the sheer depths of suffering one has to subject themselves to in order to even finish one lap of this event – at the end of the day, this is a conversation about what it takes to create the person we want to become. And isn’t that something we can all relate to? This is, without a doubt,a peek into the mind, the toughness and the motivation of someone who is truly exceptional. That’s the only word for a guy like Gary Robbins. Well, that and titan, of course.