Steve Cannon will be the first person to admit that he has done some crazy things in life, and he’s not afraid to share them. From riding with “Team Bad Boy” in the Register’s Annual Great Bike Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), to scaling the highest paved road in North America via bike (Mt. Evans), by far one of his biggest crowning achievements was running around Lake Michigan in 40 days, which is roughly 40 marathons in a row, all in pursuit to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation. Cannon recently published his book about the whole adventure, 40 Days, and he was happy to give everyone a glimpse into what it takes to go the distance and achieve your goals.
Fin & Feather: Having run across the state of Iowa three years prior to your run around Lake Michigan in 2012, you weren’t exactly a stranger to long-distance pursuits. But running around Lake Michigan in 40 days was a big step up from running across Iowa in 7, where did you come up with the crazy idea?
Steve Cannon: The first time where the idea was born I was visiting Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Some friends said to me, “hey man, you have to go check this place out, it’s crazy, you can just run until your eyes bleed, you’ll love it. So I checked it out and it was everything they said it would be. I ran and ran and when I was done, just physically trashed, I was sitting there overlooking the lake in that great endorphin-filled space that anybody who’s ever run can relate to.
From where I was sitting I had the perfect vantage point of the whole skyline of Chicago. It’s probably 20 some miles away, and the scale from that view showed just how huge Lake Michigan was, it dwarfed the city, and for whatever reason, the very next thought that came out of my mind after “wow, look how big this lake is compared to this giant city,” I wondered if anybody had ever ran around Lake Michigan.
F&F: As it turned out, no one else had ever ran around Lake Michigan, or even attempted the 1,037 miles. So in 2012, you became the first person to step to that starting line and go the distance, how did you mentally and physically prepare for such an endeavor?
S.C.: Once I had let the cat out of the bag and shared it with some friends, I formed a “team” that could help me with the website, logistics and planning for this sort of thing. In that process I spent some time on the phone with a guy by the name of Marshall Ulrich*, and eventually after talking for awhile, Marshall said to me, “call this guy Ray Zahab**, I’m going to connect you two and maybe Ray will take you on.” So with Marshall’s blessings and introduction, Ray did take me on and because it was a fundraising event, Ray offered to coach and train me for free. Lake Michigan would be 3 times the distance of my 2009 run across the state of Iowa, so I just wasn’t confident that I could train for that by myself. Once I had Ray on board I knew I had found a really big piece of the puzzle.
Ray put the plan together and with that, the mental training followed. Mental training just became part and parcel of the physical training that he put me through. We started off running 20 miles a week, then 30 miles, up to 60 miles, then back-to-back marathons on the weekends and eventually running upwards of 100 miles a week. As part of that process the mental training was also taking place because I was getting used to long-distance trips, and more importantly, I was getting used to waking up the next day to do another.
*Editor’s note: Marshall Ulrich is an endurance adventure athlete with over 120 ultramarathons under his belt, all Seven Summits completed on the first attempt, and is the author of “Running on Empty” – a personal memoir about his 3,063 mile, 52-day run across the United States. Cannon introduced himself to Ulrich when Ulrich was the keynote speaker for the Des Moines Marathon.
*Editor’s note: Ray Zahab is an adventurist/activist that has accomplished expeditions across the globe including the Gobi Desert and Canadian Arctic, as well as crushing a 2006/2007 4,300-mile journey across the Saharan Desert with two close friends – of which you can witness through the “Running the Sahara” documentary.
F&F: Along this epic 40-day run around Lake Michigan, averaging just under a marathon each day, were there any dark moments or thinking along the lines of “I’m not going to be able to do this?”
S.C.: It’s two different questions. Dark moments? – Yeah, all the time. Any thought of ever quitting? – There was never a time physically where I ever considered quitting. There were plenty of dark times though, plenty of tears, plenty of just sitting next to the lake for an hour contemplating even the first step for the day.
F&F: Keeping those dark moments in mind, what was it like on that 40th day, crossing the finish line and doing it, accomplishing what you set out for?
S.C: Along the way we did a great job and we all agreed at the start, we don’t even mention the 40th day until we’re on the 40th day, because you just had to stay in the moment. There was a very specific instant though, when we came around a paved bike trail coming north into Chicago, and we got around this corner and you could see Navy Pier in the distance. At that moment, it was the first time I really allowed myself to think, “we’re going to make it”, and it was overcoming. All of the fears, all of the hopes, aspirations, every emotion came out of me. My family was there a mile outside of the finish and we walked/jogged the last stretch together and finished at Harry Caray’s Tavern, the same place the whole thing had begun.
F&F: Were you glad to be done?
S.C.: A reporter asked me that same question moments after I had finished and I remember saying “I wish I could do this forever.” At that point I was in such a place mentally, physically, spiritually and life was so simple. I felt like I was accessing the very best parts of me that I’d never accessed before, my body was acclimated, I wasn’t setting any records but I can say that I’ve never wanted to stop since.
To find out more about Steve Cannon and his adventure exploits, as well as 40 Days, his autobiographical account of his jourey around Lake Michigan, be sure to check out his website at ExpandYourPossible.com