all ears.

Five years ago today, I handed my camera over to an accommodating intern for Live! with Regis and Kelly just outside of the show's green room and she snapped the photo above.

A few hours earlier on that Monday morning, I'd driven through the Lincoln Tunnel, found a parking spot that would provide quick escape later in the day, and then walked 20-some blocks through a strangely vacant predawn Times Square and up Broadway to the ABC studios building located just west of Central Park.

The entire weekend had been a blur of non-stop laughter, drinking and, well, mayhem.  I had been joined by 5 friends on Saturday morning for the drive to Brooklyn where we met up with two more friends for a bit of pre-gaming before the 2009 NYC Beard & Moustache Championships.

That would be my second beard competition and the attention it garnered was a study in contrast from the relaxed, informal family affair experienced at the first competition I attended.  Actually, I had an absolute blast at both events , but the two were strikingly different. If you love live music, it's a lot like trying to compare a great no-expenses-spared stadium production to an intimate performance in a small club.

Long story short, that night in Brooklyn was full of pyrotechnics and the invitation to be a guest of Regis two days later was just one more strange but beautiful explosion in a night full of awesome fireworks.

By Monday morning, I had driven back-and-forth between home and New York City twice, logged about 8 total hours of sleep, and was still trying to wrap my head around all that had happened.  There's a lot I don't remember about that weekend (and much I don't dare put into print) or that surreal visit with Mr. Philbin and Ms. Ripa (and Drew Carey who warmly met us three beardos as we exited the stage), but I vividly remember the comaraderie and the many last-forever friendships that were forged in fleeting moments and short periods of too little shared time.

Which, at last, brings me to how and why this post is appearing in a blog for-the-most-part devoted to running.

I ran and finished my first ultra, the New River 50K, in October of that very same year.

When Jefferson and I had ventured to Oil City for the WPBMA beard championships back in the Fall of 2008, I knew no one in the world of "bearding" and had little idea of what to expect at a beard competition.  That same story held true when I picked up my bib and headed to the starting line of that first 50K.  I had run my fair share of 5Ks, 5-milers and 10K races, but nothing longer than that and I didn't know (or didn't know that I knew) anyone who had run any distance longer than 26.2 miles.  Not off road, that's for sure.

Well, what I discovered is that the people growing out their beards and thinking up works of art constructed from what they'd grown were just as welcoming as the loonies who weren't interested in going out for a run unless it was longer, sometimes MUCH longer, than the marathon distance that the rest of the world seemed to hold up as the ultimate test of endurance.

So, both bearders and ultrarunners are crazy, right?


And while crazy is a tag rather eagerly embraced by both parties, I'd argue that once you pitch aside the most obvious and arguably eccentric source of expression for either, the participants are as diverse a mix of sane or nearly sane people as any other group.

Both subcultures are fond of group shots, that's for sure.

Photo courtesy of Fayetta Schwanger

Or maybe they aren't.  I certainly am and, having been absorbed wholly into both cultures, perhaps I have just had good luck in coercing my pals into smiling for the camera.

I'm ok with that and send belated thanks for the humoring.

I love these team photos not because I am much of a "joiner".  I'm not.  But, I sure do love having documents to evidence shared company while doing some of the activities I enjoy most, especially when those happenings forged so many new friendships and further strengthened those friendships that already existed.

Were it just about the activities and not the relationships built around those activities, I may have drifted on to other things.  Novelty can wear off in time.

The fact that someone let his (or her) facial hair grow untamed can be a surprisingly effective icebreaker and, in certain circles, it basically ensures immediate acceptance.  It's a pretty flimsy foundation for a long-term relationship, however, and let the conversation stray from beards and you may soon find that you and your new aquaintance have got one and only one thing in common and it isn't going to prove to be a tie that binds.  Or shouldn't be.

Same with running.

If I spend a few hours running with someone and the topic of conversation never strays from race results, training tips and the upcoming ultra events calendar, I start daydreaming about how much I like running alone.

I hear people talk all the time about "all" ultrarunners this and "everyone" in the bearded community that and, frankly, it makes me cringe.  I've been guilty of it myself and wish that were not the case.  I love black-and-white photos, but only because they aren't actually black-and-white at all, but endless shades of grey enhanced with beautiful brushstrokes of light and shadow.

It actually strikes me as counterproductive to broadly proclaim that everything about and everyone engaged in your favorite hobby is "the best", suggesting in a way that anyone not running far or not letting their razors rust are somehow lessers or, at the very least, out of the loop.  That's just not necessarily the case and I would argue that anyone taking such a stance is the one missing out.

If nothing else, I encourage you to dig a little deeper.  Share a bit of yourself that isn't about what time you posted or intend to post at Western States.  You may be sporting quite the finely shaped Garibaldi that I'm sure will prove quite competitive at Worlds, but...what...else...can...you...tell...me...about...yourself.  I'd like to know.

Come out of character and let yourself be known and, while you're at it, spend a minute learning something about the people around you.

I've been blessed to meet some quite accomplished runners and beardsmen.  I marvel at their talents and what they've done with those talents.  But, if and when a scratch beneath the surface reveals little else, that talent isn't enough to hold my interest.  Thankfully, I have discovered that many of the folks you meet during races or while climbing onto a stage together to have your beards judged possess far more depth and have incredible stories to tell if you just allow the conversation get there.

I thank my two seemingly unrelated hobbies for having introduced me to so many amazing individuals, but I could honestly care little about how much running or bearding factors into the time I spend in the future with these fine people.

It's just not all that important if they make any more podiums or even reach another finish line.  I won't think the less of him (or her) if the next Best Full Beard Natural award is given to someone else.  What I will strive to be is the first in line to celebrate real life milestones, offer condolences for losses, laugh along, and just plain be there.  And I know that should I (gasp) shave or hang up my shoes once and for all, I can expect they'll be there for me too.

photo courtesy of iRunFar.com

Photo courtesy of Trevor Cranmer
Photo courtesy of Jo Weakley Agnew
Photo courtesy of Greg Petliski
Thank you, genuinely, to the many of you who have allowed me to be me and in turn given me the chance to truly know who you are.

And to those of you who I haven't yet met, be forewarned that even though my mouth can run a lot faster than my legs, I listen too and hope you give me a chance to hear your stories.


  1. Great post Leon. Seems like your writing just keeps getting better!

    1. Wow...thanks! Lot of the time, I feel like I'm running place when it comes to writing, but I can't seem to shake the habit so I just keep running. Appreciate the kind words!