by William Harwood
The man strides onto the trail and turns to face the expectant crowd. He is tall. He is handsome. He is athletic. He is dressed like a leprechaun. It is eight o’clock in the morning. He is drinking beer.
“I promise to push myself!” the man calls out. “I promise to push myself!” the crowd roars back.
The man is John Hardin, founder of HardWin Adventures, the Nashville-based, outdoor adventure challenge company. The crowd – men and women of a wide-range of ages, backgrounds, and skill levels – are runners who have turned out on St. Patty’s Day, March 17th, to take on The Music City Trail Ultra. Through call and response, they recite the Runners’ Oath, the words that precede each HardWin Adventure and help transform a disparate group of people into a kind of tribe who, for the next several hours, will literally share a difficult yet rewarding path through life.
“Protect my fellow runners!” John shouts. “Protect my fellow runners!” the people shout back.
The promise is a serious one. The participants are seconds away from embarking upon a scenic, fifty-kilometer tour of the 20,000-acre Cheatham County Wildlife Management Area, enjoying such sights as fallen trees, icy-slick stream crossings, and sick-steep hills. Along the way are roots and rocks and uncertain footing and patches of briars providing cover for snakes and ticks. In short, the setting is the perfect playground for yet another HardWin Adventure.
“Respect the Earth that I run on!” John continues. “Respect the Earth that I run on!” the runners respond.
There will be no cups on this race or in any HardWin Adventure. At the aid stations, runners will fill up their own containers with hydration, cutting down on waste. The only containers handed out will be the pint glasses at the finish line, customized with the logo of The Music City Trail Ultra and all set to be filled with delicious Jackalope beer, one of the event’s sponsors. There, finishers will also be able to wrap themselves in John’s new towel with a waterproof membrane in the middle – No Swet. The towel protects runners’ car seats on the ride home, and John donates two dollars from the sale of each one to the Friends of Percy Warner Park.
But, at eight o’clock in the morning, the comforts of a cold pint of Jackalope and a warm, fuzzy towel still lie hours into the future for these intrepid athletes. First, they must meet the challenges of the course. And, to do that, they must meet the challenges within themselves, overcoming whatever inner obstacles stand in the way of attaining a difficult yet worthy goal. It’s a paradox, but completing a HardWin Adventure requires both pride and humility. Pride in the sense that your spirit may choose to persist even when your body begs to quit. Humility in the sense that a HardWin Adventure pits a participant against the vastness of nature, and – while God may indeed love you – nature does not give a rat’s ass if you trip and bust your teeth on a rock. A HardWin Adventure celebrates both our human vulnerability and our capacity to overcome it.
“And always be humble!” John pledges. “And always be humble!” the HardWin Adventurers pledge, too.
John means it, too. For a man with lots of reasons not to be humble (not only is he tall, handsome and athletic, but also smart, young and affluent), John embodies humility and practices what he preaches. As this article goes to print, John is pushing himself to earn the fastest known time (FKT) of the Sheltowee Trace. It won’t be easy. The Sheltowee is 323 miles of twisting, turning trails, running through the Daniel Boone National Forest for almost the width of Kentucky and deep into the Big South Fork of northern Tennessee. To beat the record, John will have to average well over fifty miles per day, arising at 4:00 a.m. each morning to be gaining ground by 5:00 a.m. It is not an attempt to be taken lightly, and John has trained for this, getting up at 3:30 a.m. – that’s not a typo – for the past few months to run each morning until 7:00 a.m., the time he must put away his Superman cape to don his Clark Kent duds: John is a happy husband, doting dad, and busy businessman.
So why put himself through all the effort?
“I believe that we humans have won the cosmic lottery,” John observes. “So, I go out and make good use of this golden ticket. I seek extreme things to see if they can break me, and – from that – gain insight. Getting uncomfortable can build you.”
And helping others get uncomfortable, too – in as safe and inviting way as possible – is the essence of HardWin Adventures. Whether rock climbing, paddle boarding, or trail running, athletes of all ages and levels have challenged themselves with their own humble pride to complete successfully one of John’s events. It’s a humble pride tribe that just keeps on growing, and you’re invited to come play, too.
Check out HardWinAdventures.com for a heads up on the new challenges coming your way. Also, while you’re there, say hi to John. He’d love to hear from you.