Getting in the Game
Married, a successful businessman and firmly into middle age, Brian Grossman JD/C’93 decided he needed a new challenge. So he signed up to run the most grueling race in the world.
The Marathon des Sables is not a race for would-be athletes or weekend joggers. The six-day, 150-mile foot race across the Sahara Desert requires competitors to carry their food and sleeping gear on their backs in temperatures that can reach 120 degrees. At least two people have died running it; one time, a racer from Italy hit a sandstorm and wandered around, lost, for nine days. Entry fees are steep. Multiple bloggers state that anyone even considering running the “marathon of the sands,” the equivalent of six marathons, must be crazy.
Brian Grossman’s reaction? Bring it on. Combining self-interest and philanthropy, Grossman ran the MdS earlier this year to raise money for Kids in the Game, a Bend,
Ore.-based charity he founded in 2010 to provide athletic fees for low-income kids who can’t afford to participate in their local sports programs.
“I told myself that I’m going to take the whole idea of a midlife crisis to a midlife ascension,” said Grossman, JD/C’93. “This is the time of life where people cheat on their wives, buy motorcycles, etcetera. You can leave a legacy when you’re dead, but also when you’re alive.”
Grossman, a veteran of several ultra-long races, is 6 feet 2 inches. He skis, bikes and runs, but over the years his weight had ballooned to 221 pounds. His dad’s reaction when he told him he was going to run the MdS: “That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever signed up for. Why would anyone want to do that?”
The race had actually been on Grossman’s to-do list for quite a while. While living abroad after law school, he had seen a pal of his running down the hot, steamy streets of Shanghai with a backpack. When Grossman asked him what he was up to, his friend replied he was training for the MdS. Intrigued, Grossman vowed he’d tackle the race some day, but it was 15 years before he got to it.
“My goal was to finish,” he said. “No matter how bad my feet got, if I didn’t have a biomechanical or major dehydration issue, I would finish.”
The Internet is awash in training regimens for the MdS, but, astonishingly, Grossman didn’t do any research or set a schedule. He’d run until he got tired — although that usually didn’t happen until he’d covered eight straight hours through the desolate, rugged territory of Central Oregon. He also did yoga, tae bo and lifted weights. He didn’t diet or count calories, but he did give up burgers, fries, chips and beer. Most of his time went into researching gear and footwear.
“He’s very disciplined, very committed,” said Grossman’s running partner, Eric Plantenberg, who has climbed Mt. Everest and plans to run the MdS someday. “I’ve never heard of anyone training for an endurance race like that, but what I love about it is it fits Brian’s personality. He’s bucking conventional wisdom and he gets great results.”
On April 5, Grossman found himself at the start of the race in Morocco, confident he’d done everything he could to prepare. He had the right recovery drink, good shoes and a light pack. All he had to do was ignore the signals that his body, running in extreme heat over sand and scree, would send to his brain: that he was dying and had to stop.
Running the MdS is actually a misnomer; most MdS participants power-walk large sections of it. At night Grossman slept in military-style tents that race organizers provided; during the day he ate oatmeal, protein bars, nuts, beef jerky and ginger. Dinner consisted of expedition-style meals of beef stroganoff and chili con carne. At rest stations, he regularly changed his wet socks to dry ones because he was worried about blisters hobbling him. Grossman ran through rain and a sandstorm. He thought about his family. About eating and drinking. How painful his feet felt. And if he’d get through the race or drop out.
He finished, of course, and spent two weeks recovering. He lost 32 pounds and raised $58,000 for Kids in the Game. After an initial bout of gloom — what do you do to follow up running the most difficult race in the world? — Grossman decided he wants to do more for the world. But he’s not sure what.
“I want to live an inspired life, and that means inspiring others with what you do,” he said. “When you’re in your late 80s, sitting on a park bench and looking back on your life, it won’t matter the mistakes you made or how good a lawyer you were. What I don’t want to have is regrets over the things I could have done.”
To donate to Kids in the Game, visit the organization’s website: kidsinthegame.org.
Brian Grossman JD/C’93
“I want to live an inspired life, and that means inspiring others with what you do.”
Related Resources: Willamette Lawyer
Fall 2012 Vol. XII, No. 2
- The Willamette Lawyer Interview (Note: web version)