One of the greatest blessings in the running community are the people. At every race, regardless of pace, you find your greatest supporters in people you never knew prior to that day. We are a unique family with no qualifications for inclusion; if you run/walk/move you are welcome. During training runs, on trails, at a gym, on the dreadmill or any run/walk you can be guaranteed a smile/grimace and a wave from a fellow runner. One of our family’s greatest strengths is every member has a different story, a different drive and a different reason for getting out and getting active. The strength and diversity are beacons of hope; hope to courageously begin a new journey, solace knowing setbacks are natural and joy knowing each journey is unique and very important.
Our first Rocky Mountain Running family story begins with a wonderful friend who is an avid runner and has a heart the size of Texas. Mike Ernst has a quiet smile, kind eyes and was one of the first distance runners I got to know in Laramie. Our paths first crossed when we worked in the same building, early birds on different floors. As time passed, we began to make local connections and recognize each other on early morning runs. Our running schedules are similar, setting out when the town is sleeping, the sky is dark, and the roads are clear aside from newspaper, delivery people and the LPD. Over the years we have raced the same races, learned that our families share a love for Disney and become wonderful friends.
As the patriarch of Team Ernst, Mike shares his running journey with his beautiful wife, Amy, and two lovely daughters Sydney and Kristen. Mike’s career in law enforcement was the first nudge he had to begin running, but then his focus and 11.5 year running streak took on a different meaning.
Growing up, Mike ran track in grade school and junior high, mostly to stay in shape for other sports like wrestling and football. He ran again at the Police Academy but didn’t consider lacing up his shoes again until almost 20 years later. In 2006 he met a local family as the lead investigator on their son’s homicide case. Over the next couple of years Mike got to know the family better and decided in February 2008 to participate in a 10K memorial run they were hosting in his honor in July 2008. Recruiting members of the police and fire departments for the race his training began.
A few months into his training, life threw the Ernst family a curve ball. In April 2008, his beautiful bride, Amy was diagnosed with cancer for the third time. Having fought breast cancer in 2005 and thyroid cancer in 2006 she was again faced with a difficult battle. Thyroid cancer had returned and spread to most of the lymph nodes in her neck requiring a neck dissection. Mike looked to running in the days before Amy’s surgery to help balance his stress and worry. On June 20, 2008 Amy was admitted and due to unforeseen complications spent 8 hours on the operating table. The difficult surgery and memories of a collapsed lung from a previous surgery prompted Amy to want Mike to stay at the hospital. A mere two days after surgery Amy went home and Mike went to run, promising he would run every day until she went back into the hospital again for cancer. June 22, 2008 his streak began.
During the first year of his streak Mike decided to train for his first marathon which he ran in May 2009; to date has completed 15 marathons. He began to run more races to motivate himself and eventually convinced Amy and their daughters to run. Race vacations became a Team Ernst tradition, finding races in places they wanted to visit like Yosemite, Niagara Falls and Hawaii. The races had to be fun and combine shorter distances for the girls and a half or full marathon for Mike. The Xterra World Championship Trail Race in December of 2014 was the first race vacation and included Amy, Mike and Mike’s Mom, who had always wanted to visit Hawaii. This marked the first trip for Team Ernst and the first time Mike traveled outside of Wyoming and Colorado for a race.
The following year was what became Mike’s favorite running memory. Xterra was calling again, so all 5 members of Team Ernst, including Sydney and Kristen, hopped over to Hawaii. They celebrated Christmas early and the youngest member of the team even missed a week of college to make the trip. Everyone ran a race and the memories were priceless. Unfortunately, it was the last time all five of Team Ernst was together as Mike’s mother passed away unexpectedly five months later. Losing his mom was difficult but creating memories together in Hawaii was a blessing.
Being surrounded by people in a race chute is one of Mike’s favorite places to be. Positivity electrifies the atmosphere as talk isn’t about politics, work or world problems. Conversations center around races that have been run, races they want to run and of course, shoes. Can you ever have enough running shoes? Mike has enjoyed meeting and racing with people from all over the world who share his passion for running. One of the highlights was the opportunity to run three races with Ryan Hall and two races with Ryan’s wife Sara. Ryan is a professional runner who became the first U.S. runner to break the one-hour barrier in the half marathon and currently holds the U.S. record at 59:43. Ryan is also the only American to run a sub 2:05 marathon, won the marathon at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials and placed 10th in the Olympic marathon in Beijing.
Maintaining a daily running streak for over 11.5 years means Mike has faced difficulties. Lacing up for over 4,240 consecutive, outside runs, averaging 7 miles a day, has brought numerous injuries. Maintaining the streak meant running injured and understanding recovery takes longer and becomes more difficult. As a die-hard outdoor runner, the psychotic Wyoming weather has brought its own challenges. Mike has completed two training runs in -39 degrees Fahrenheit twice and has run his hottest runs in the low 90s. Another challenge in keeping his streak comes when traveling to other countries for races. Races in Dublin, Ireland and Liverpool, England meant 24-hour travel days. To keep the streak alive Mike ran right off the plane.
Despite challenges, Mike has never wanted to quit. Getting older has prompted him to consider running indoors or shorten his minimum distance on crazy, cold Wyoming mornings, but as of now he continues to brave the weather.
To balance his fitness Mike has been lifting weights three times per week for the last nine years and is upping that to five times per week this year, believing a strong core is imperative for running. Every evening he walks a few miles, loves hiking in the summer and during race vacations Team Ernst chooses to travel by foot or use public transportation.
When the alarm pierces the morning for 11 ½ straight years, it can be difficult to find motivation; mornings can be brutally cold, injuries hurt, and the body can be tired. Amy is an incredible primary motivation, but Mike looks to other things, as well, to keep himself lacing up. Team Ernst run vacations make running fun providing another focus for training. The stories and journeys from other runners provide motivation as well as reading and researching diet changes and different workout routines.
Clearly, Mike’s commitment to fitness and running has impacted the three women in his life. They are all running races, have changed their eating habits, although the girls admit they are not quite as strict as Mike, and they all plan and look ahead to the next place to visit and the next Team Ernst race. Mike has also seen a change in himself, feeling happier since he started running every day. Starting most every day with a run means regardless of what happens the rest of the day, he got a run in. Mike’s goals have changed with the miles. In the beginning he thought running would help him live longer, now his focus is trying to enjoy every day like it might be his last. Mike knows not every part of every day is going to be great, but every day is a gift and he chooses to focus on the beauty and positive moments in each day.
To some an 11 ½ year daily running streak may seem unobtainable and daunting, but Mike started at the beginning, just like everyone else. In his years of running and experience his best advice for someone just getting started is to start out slow with small goals. Don’t expect to run miles and miles on your first day. Walk a little, then run a little in short distances. Stay consistent until you are running more and walking less. In the gym start with lower weights and build. Doing too much too soon will make you sore and make it more difficult to get up the next day and do it again. Commitment is the most important part getting and being fit. Most people give their employer 40+ hours a week of their best time and don’t make time for themselves. You must invest in yourself to be able to give to others. Commitment means doing a run or workout when you don’t feel like it; when you finish that workout or run, you will be glad you did.
When Mike Ernst laced up his running shoes on June 22, 2008, he had no idea what his streak would become or the impact those miles would have. With each new day and each new mile Amy has remained cancer free and although the streak has since become his own, the veil of protection surrounds his beautiful bride with each foot strike. 4,240 days ago Mike Ernst made a promise. Live each day with joy and run happy.