For the Love of the Run, the Journey, the Community

Dan Savage

At the Finish of my First Ultra

Shortly after turning 40, Dan Savage looked in the mirror. Staring back was a stressed-out, 65-pound overweight guy.

Savage had been in and out of the hospital, getting treatment for Crohn’s Disease.

His diet and exercise habits were bad, to put it mildly.

“I thought a workout involved lifting a double cheeseburger versus a single. It was U-G-L-Y. It was at this point I had one of those life changing moments – you know where ‘your want to,’ wants to change? I just told myself, if I wanted to see my kids grow up and see any grandkids, I need to change, and change now.”

And so he did, joining the Marathon Training Academy, and becoming more active and improving his diet. Now when he looks in the mirror, he sees an ultra marathoner!

For the love of the run, the journey, the community

Close to the beginning of walking

Close to the beginning of walking

Starting with Walking
Savage started out by changing his diet (“Thanks to my bride, Christine”) and exercising, which eventually led to a reduction in his weight, stress levels and Crohn’s issues. At age 40, he began his journey by just walking.

“First it was, hey, I walked a block, then hey I walked several blocks, a mile, and then near my 41st birthday, I was pretty pumped that I was able to walk a 5K in my neighborhood,” he remembers.

“The second year of this journey I started getting bored with just walking, so I began short spurts of running with my walking – in a similar fashion as I did with walking. I did this walk/spurts of running kind of thing for the next couple of years.”

First 5k

Our first 5k ever.

Our first 5k ever.

In 2010, Savage signed up for his first 5K — “and was scared out of my ever loving mind.”

But what drew him to that race made it extra special. “The race was to support an orphanage in South Africa, which I thought was a great cause,” he says.

“I told Christine about it and she signed up with me too. It took us over an hour to finish that thing, but when we crossed that finish line, I was hooked with this whole running thing.”

He continued running regularly, completed more 5Ks and even progressed to 10Ks. Then Savage needed a new challenge.

First Half Marathon
“So I gulped and signed up for my first half marathon in 2012, the Kansas City Marathon,” he says, adding he was “crazy intimidated but also jazzed about the possibility of finishing something I had never thought I would ever do.”

He crossed that finish line in the fall of 2012. “I was over the moon ecstatic,” says Savage. “It had been a crazy challenge and the culmination of a year of training. Over the course of the next year and change I ran four more HMs and again got comfortable with the distance. I needed a new challenge. So in the spring of 2014, I signed up for the Kansas City Marathon — full.“

MTA coach, community drives him forward . . .

Picking up my first marathon bib, KC Marathon

Picking up my first marathon bib, KC Marathon

First Marathon
Savage had set himself a once-unthinkable goal. He felt like he was in way over his head but still felt “jazzed by the opportunity and the challenge.” But he was wise enough to know that he needed assistance to cross the finish line safely.

Enter Marathon Training Academy.

Savage found the MTA podcast on iTunes, started listening to the episodes and felt a real connection to hosts Angie and Trevor Spencer.

“So I signed up with the academy and started using one of their training plans, listening to ALL of the training instructional podcasts in the members-only section and started to put it into action the best way I knew how.”

As a member, Savage joined the private MTA Facebook group and started seeking advice. “Dear Lord did I ask a ton of questions,” he recalls. “A lot of very gracious people answered those questions and made a world of difference to me. I try to remember that now with the newbies we have coming through now.”

The support from MTA helped Savage achieve his marathon finish in fall 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Four More Marathons!
“I was scared out of my mind, but ended up having the best experience and fell in love with the distance,” he says. “In 2015 I ended up running four more marathons and also qualifying for Marathon Maniacs. I started getting comfortable with the distance — Do you see a pattern here? — and started to wonder how I could challenge myself further.”

Training for an ultramarathon

Cross Training with my Bride

Cross Training with my Bride

About the same time, coach Angie started talking about her first ultra and others on the podcast. “The ultra scene really intrigued me, so I started looking into this and researching,” Savage says. “After much research and thought, I found this really cool ultra called the Frisco Railroad Run Ultra in Willard, Missouri.”

Once again Savage was jazzed yet intimidated.

“The reviews were great, the support appeared to be amazing and so many people said it was exactly what they needed to get their foot wet in the ultra scene,” he says.

“So I signed up in the winter of 2015 for the race. Insert Angie into the picture December/January timeframe as my coach for this race. She has been amazing.”

Running a 50k
And, just like the previous race distances, Savage conquered the 50K. “While I was always intimidated with a new distance, it never once entered my mind that I would not finish – including this 50K,” he says.

“I don’t know how to explain it except to say not finishing something is not something I think about? Run, walk, crawl, I just expect to finish. That’s a mindset thing I guess? Or maybe me just being naïve? I will say that my smile did get increasingly larger the closer I got to the finish line of my 50K.”

Now 65 pounds lighter and an ultra finisher, Savage is looking ahead to more ultras. “I am eating better,” he says, though admitting he still needs improvement in that area. “I am loving life. I have signed up for the Kansas Rails to Trails 50K in the fall, and have fallen in love with trail running. I am a part of a trail running group called Trail Nerds and just love it.”

It takes a village to raise an ultra runner

At the expo hanging out with some amazing people!

Meeting up with Angie, Trevor, and other MTA’ers

While Trail Nerds offers a local community, Savage credits the MTA family for his growth as a runner.

“In the words of Hillary Clinton (not an endorsement, by the way), it truly does take a village to raise a child,” he says. “My lord does it take a village. There is no doubt in my mind I would not be where I am today in my running without Angie’s coaching and all the support and love of our MTA family.”

As a coach, Angie works one-on-one with her athletes, no matter their experience level or future goals.

“If you need help or advice she is right there to give you what is needed,” Savage says. “I had several obstacles I had to overcome during this training cycle including a stay in the hospital with Crohn’s flare up and a month of downtime in February due to a persistent respiratory infection.

“Angie did an amazing job helping me navigate these and other obstacles and stay on track with my training. I highly recommend her to anyone looking for this kind of help. As far as my MTA peeps – they are the best. All of their words of encouragement and advice were and are so appreciated.”

Running and helping his charity

As passionate as Savage is about running and the MTA community, perhaps his greatest motivator is being a part of his church’s journey to stop sex trafficking in Kansas City, the U.S. and around the world. Kansas City is in the top five U.S. cities in terms of sex trafficking.

Running to Stop It
“Our church started out raising funds to stop this evil practice through running sponsorships back in 2009 — our members would run various distances at the KC Marathon and obtain sponsor dollars to support the cause through running this race,” he says. “This has evolved over the past seven years to a point where last year at the Kansas City Marathon alone we raised $100,000 to support Exodus House through our ‘Run to Stop it’ campaign.”

Savage estimates that there are approximately 500,000 sex slaves in the U.S., and millions more around the world. “This is something we are trying to actively address both locally and beyond KC.”

With his motivations in place, his diet on the right track and the support of the Marathon Training Academy community, there are no limits for Savage.

“What I love most about this running journey is just that – the journey itself,” he says. “Getting to know some great folks, seeing your life transform through the process, evolving as you learn more, and the community created through training along the way to me is the best part of it all.

“Sure there are races, and completing those are fun and rewarding, no doubt. But a medal can’t do life with you — but a community of folks can, and that is what means the world to me. Much love to my MTA and cross training communities. They are the fricken best and I am grateful to be a part of their world, and them a part of mine.”

Pat McCain and I at the Finish of the Lincoln Marathon

Fellow MTA’er Pat McCain and I at the Finish of the Lincoln Marathon

Speed drill

  • Name: Dan Savage
  • Hometown: I was born in Springfield, Mass., while my dad was doing a top 40 DJ gig at a local radio station. About a year later we moved to the Williamsburg, Va., area where I spent the next 34 years of my life. For the past 11 years I have been a resident of Kansas City, Mo. ‘Murica.
  • Number of years running: Not very many. Not long after my 40th birthday I started this journey. I just turned 47 in May.
    How many miles a week do you typically run: Angie has me running anywhere from 25 to 40 miles a week depending upon the stage of my latest training cycle.
  • Point of pride: That I am still alive after all this running … seriously, I am in awe of what the body allows to be possible.
    Favorite race distance: One that I finish, though I am starting to really get into this whole ultra thing. It’s pretty addicting. I am not a speedster (have you seen me? #hellotubby), but I can “go long,” so anything in that category is right up my alley.
  • Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: My fav long run concoction consists of an Isagenix vegan protein shake with a dose of Isagenix Ionix, a dollop of almond butter, a squirt of organic honey, and blended together with a Kyoto cold brew and ice. It very well may be what the gods drink before throwing bolts of lightning around and such.
  • Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I like to think I’m a traditionalist with songs like “I think I can, I think I can” – inset vision of train going uphill …. reality is slightly different though. My running music is what my kids affectionately like to call “Dad’s dirty music”… so judgmental of them. Where did I go wrong as a dad? My fav right now is from Eminem called ‘Till I Collapse – Seems appropriate for me #pleasepausemygarmin
  • Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: The medics are just a phone call away…hopefully… In all seriousness, during my first 20 mile run waayyy back in 2014, I was listening to a podcast and an old man was talking about his run at Comrades in which he made the statement – “you are capable of much more than you think you are”. That phrase has stuck with me from that point to now. It was an epiphany moment in my short running life.
  • Where can other runners connect or follow you: The Marathon Training Academy Facebook group, of course.

2 Responses to For the Love of the Run, the Journey, the Community

  1. Micheline Picard May 23, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

    Dan, you are an inspiration! Keep on challenging yourself and share your journey with us all! Thanks!

  2. Sharon Hall May 24, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    Very well written story about everyone’s favorite good guy! Dan, you are such an inspiration and always there to lift up all of us!! If it wasn’t for you I probably wouldn’t have tried to do a marathon! And someday I will get there!!

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