I’m going to tell you a long story, one blog post at a time. Pieces of it I may have told before, but I really want to lay out the whole thing in as much detail as I can remember. I’ve been reflecting on my fitness journey a lot lately and thinking about how far I’ve come, all the friends I’ve made (and unmade), and all of the amazing things that have come out of it. There are funny stories, sad stories and lots of lessons learned. I hope you get something out of it.
I’ve called it Tater Tots.
Let’s start at the beginning. It was Veterans Day 2009, and since I worked for a government contractor I had the day off of work. About a month earlier I had done a google search for “how to train like MMA fighters in Memphis” and it led me to CrossFit Memphis. Mostly because Doug Larson was an MMA fighter in Memphis at the time. I had been going to classes there for about a month, and I had scheduled a meeting with Doug on my day off to talk about my nutrition. I told him all about the the sugar I put in the coffee, the energy drinks, the fast food (multiple times a day), and the beer. He set me up with a spreadsheet to start logging all the stuff I ate, and told me to start simple. He said, “let’s try to not put any sugar in the coffee for a week.” That was surprisingly easy, and I’ve drank straight black coffee ever since. After the sugar, we knocked out the energy drinks, and then moved on to cutting out the fast food. Eventually I was learning to make protein smoothies and prepping meals for the week.
I became that guy on Facebook that everyone hates. Posting workouts and updating everyone every time I went to the gym. Remember that app called Foursquare? At one time I was the mayor of every CrossFit gym in the Memphis area all at the same time. I knew it was annoying, but I didn’t care. I was doing all of these crazy things that I’d never done before. Some things I’d never had the ability to do before. At least I never knew I had the ability to do this kind of stuff.
I really got into running and started learning about the POSE method and CrossFit Endurance. Rob Conner and Mike Bledsoe would coach me on my running. Mostly Mike would give me running workouts and Rob would challenge me to run crazy long races. These two guys would be responsible for getting me to my first Marathon and to my first 50 mile race. They would also be the ones to plant the 100 miler seed in my head. Could I one day run 100 miles? I would think about that a lot.
Eventually I became known as the “crazy running guy” in the local CrossFit community because most people in the CrossFit world hate running (or at least they did at the time) and it made me stand out a little bit. I enjoyed that, and it provided motivation (still does) to push the envelope and try to run more and do more longer races.
I’d decided to run a 50 mile race. Rob had told me that I should do the Ouachita 50 miler so we picked that one. Rob also told me that I should do the Sylamore 50k in February leading up to Ouachita in April. Looking back on it, I think Rob was seriously just messing around with me to see what kind of crazy shit he could get me to do.
Mike and another friend of mine James Cheney decided to make a documentary about me running the 50 miler. The whole movie never got made, but we did make a pretty cool trailer.
A couple of years later I got an email from a guy named Michael Myser. He was writing an article on Brian Mackenzie and CrossFit Endurance for Muscle and Performance magazine. He had come across Lift Heavy Run Long and my 400 pound deadlift + 50 mile club and wanted to interview me for his article. I was stoked! This guy was writing an article for a magazine about one of my heroes (B Mack), and he wanted to include me? WTF?
Here’s a snippet from the article:
Another notable athlete is Von Ralls, a 36-year-old who walked into Faction Strength & Conditioning in Memphis, Tenn., nearly three years ago, overweight, out of shape and with no running or lifting background. But with his coaches there programming CFE, he has since run more than 15 races, including several ultramarathons. In his most recent outing, Ralls knocked 39 minutes off his Sylamore Trail 50K time in Allison, Ark.
“You typically go to these races and see how skinny the runners are, and they can’t lift heavy at all,” Ralls says. “I started thinking it would be cool to try to become the strongest ultramarathoner in the world. It’s been fun.”
To that end, Ralls recently broke 400 pounds in the deadlift and 300 pounds in the squat. His press has jumped 50 pounds in six months to 180, and he’s clean-and-jerking 195 pounds, up 30 pounds in that time. He tracks his progress at liftheavyrunlong.com, where he’s also created the tongue-in-cheek “400lbs./50 Mile Club,” consisting of those who deadlift 400 pounds and complete a 50-mile race.
He’s currently the lone member.
I remember getting the call from him at work for the interview. I was so nervous. I went upstairs into an empty conference room, locked the door and called Mike Bledsoe. I was like, “Dude, what do I say to this guy?” He just said not to worry about it and just relax and answer his questions. I think Mike was on the call too, but I can’t remember. I just remember how awesome it felt to be associated with Brian Mackenzie and CrossFit Endurance in a magazine article. I’ll reflect back on this when I tell you the story of going to Brian’s gym in California.
Here’s a link to the article: https://www.muscleandperformance.com/training-performance/train-your-way-to-a-muscular-marathon
Many people start their journey into fitness many times and fail over and over again. I often wonder how I was able to keep it up for so long. I think things went so well for me in the beginning because I had such a great support system of coaches and athletes around me. I mean who doesn’t feel like a rock star when people want to follow you around with a camera and write articles in magazines about what you are doing? I also had some really awesome workout partners that kept me motivated to workout every morning at 6am. That certainly helped as well. I’ve always wanted people to have that same kind of experience at Olive Branch CrossFit and in the Lift Heavy Run Long community. I want everyone to feel like a rock star.