Redefining Possible: Exclusive Interview with Dan the Runner, Yogi & Conqueror of the Appalachian Trail

Redefining Possible: Exclusive Interview with Dan the Runner, Yogi & Conqueror of the Appalachian Trail

This is my favorite blog post to-date.  This is an interview with a good friend who started out as a marathon runner, hiked the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail, and now is an avid yogi.  We can all learn a thing or two from Dan about “redefining possible” and challenging ourselves while living in the present.  Find out more in this exclusive interview.

= Question
A = Answer

Q: When did you start running long distance and what is your running experience?

A: I started running long distance in 2010 during my sophomore year of college with the goal of losing weight and getting into shape. The first goal I had was to run 3 miles by the end of that first semester. When I met that goal, I felt empowered and had a fire lit inside of me. From there, I went on to run the 10-mile Broad Street Run that year (the first goal of mine that people laughed at me to my face for having – a trend that would continue for almost all of the goals I am about to discuss). After that, I ran in the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, the ODDyssey Half Marathon, and the Philadelphia Marathon in 2012. I became very ambitious, very quickly. I wanted to prove something to the world and I had a huge chip on my shoulder. Each race gave me confidence that I could do more.

Q: Why did you decide to hike the Appalachian Trail?

A: In the Fall of 2013, as my college career came to an end, I came across an interesting opportunity that I learned about in my Backpacking Class at Temple University: hiking across the Appalachian Mountain Range - over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. My teacher encouraged me to do it, and so began the research and preparation. I left in April 2014, at the end of another tax season (I prepare tax returns for a living currently), off into the woods of Georgia, alone and ready to conquer the trail ahead.

(Springer Mountain, Georgia - the beginning of the trail on April 24, 2014)

Q: Did long distance running help prepare you for the Trail?

A: Leading up to the hike, long distance running was a huge help. Without my experience in running, I am not sure that I could have completed the entire trail. Running gave me the physical endurance, lung capacity, and mental fortitude to break through barriers that seem almost impossible to pass when you start out. Most importantly, running gave me the ability to gauge how my body is feeling. That intuition proved invaluable, and saved my hiking adventure many times since I would choose to take rest when I needed it.

Q: Did you have a "turning point" or a moment when you felt like you couldn't complete the Trail?
A: The "lowest" point for me mentally along the trail happened in Shenandoah National Park. I got to a point where I was incredibly hot and exhausted. I was hiking alone and sat down on a rock in the park. At that moment, I daydreamed about going home and going to a soft bed and hot shower. I wanted to go back to my normal routine and enjoy some comfort. I was close enough to be picked up by family or friends. I was hungry and felt like curling up and throwing in the towel. I questioned why I was doing this thing and what value finishing had. This was an important turning point for me where the journey became more about my heart and intuition rather than my mind and logic.

Q: How did you get over your "low point"?
A: I don't know how I got through it, really. There was no major factor that forced me to go on other than sheer willpower. I told myself to just get to camp, go to sleep, and live another day. I had to bring myself back to that moment and decide that my overall goal was more important than the weariness I was feeling. I woke up the next morning, and didn't have a thought like that again. I became grateful every day to be out there. I decided that I was going to finish as long as my body and the weather would allow me. Each day afterwards I felt a little more cheerful, and the pains felt a little less miserable. Until I reached the end of the trail and found incredible bliss.

(2,185.3 miles, 14 states, and 166 days after starting his journey, Dan finished the Appalachian Trail at Mount Khatadin, Maine)

Q: Onto your newest did you get into yoga?  What has it taught you along with your other athletic ventures?

A: I first learned about yoga while in India in 2012. At the time, I was impatient and did not see its value. I wanted to run. I was living in the fast lane. If it didn’t make me completely exhausted, what kind of benefit could it have for my body? I ended up ditching it after a few classes.

In November 2014, after returning from the Appalachian Mountains, my body was desperate for healing. For weeks after the journey I found it difficult to walk down stairs while my body was recovering. One of my friends was going to a yoga class one night, and I asked to tag along. That night, the teacher said, “Even if you only come to your mat and sit there, you are still practicing yoga.” At this point in my life, I was much more willing to sit and do nothing, and the idea stuck with me. I could come and go, move or sit, stand or lay and still be practicing this “thing.” This resonated with me deeply. After hiking over 2,000 miles, the best point of the Appalachian Trail experience wasn't finishing. It was emerging from one of the final stretches of wilderness and seeing the finish line right before me. I could stand there and look at it, or lay down and go to it the next day. I could walk away and never go up it. It was one of the first moments of my life that I felt I owned and had no control over, all at the same time. Only after such a long experience could I have come to appreciate that moment so deeply.

(When Dan could see the end of the Trail)

I have come to apply this concept to my daily practice and living. When I started with running, the distances were only accomplishments. And as I grew and have completed more endurance feats they have become less about proving myself and more about the feeling of freedom. It is incredibly freeing to get to a point where you can truly feel accomplished and happy about what you have done and the road behind you, yet still want to continue towards the goal. This is how I feel when I practice yoga. I am always working towards another goal, but am not so attached to it that I forget about where I am at today.

(Tennessee during Dan's 5.5 month journey on the Appalachian Trail)

(Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania along the Trail)

Q: Why would you recommend others pick up yoga?

A: The practice of yoga gives me time to reflect, almost every day, on the road behind – or on nothing at all. There is this idea of having a “foundation” from which to build on. I have read that the wisdom of adults does not merely come from age, but from self-reflection and constantly asking yourself “How could I do that better next time?” and “Am I doing everything I can to _____?” (you can complete based on your goal or value that you hold close). I see people around me who grow older every year, but stop growing their capacity to learn and develop themselves. There is obviously a line where you are not obsessing over the past, but using it as a tool to build yourself up. You let go of the things that do not matter, remember the things that do, and work towards loving yourself every time you practice. The yoga practice is infinite. It’s important to remember that you can define a lot of what the practice means to you, and tailor it to your needs.

Redefine Possible:

For much of the Appalachian Trail, I wore my Philadelphia Marathon shirt with the words “Redefine Possible” written across the sternum. I have held these words close to me as I conquer each new challenge. There will always be those who shoot your idea down. Take from them what you think is valuable, toss out the rest, and continue towards your goal. One day it will be standing right in front of you, and all you have to do is take one more step.


Read more about Dan's Appalachian adventure on his blog here.

- - -

Would you hike the Appalachian Trail?

How has running helped you prepare for a big event?

Do you practice yoga?  How often?

Leave a Comment