Harvey Sweetland Lewis

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Harvey Lewis
Harvey Lewis.tiff
Personal information
Born (1976-04-00)April , 1976
Wheeling, West Virginia
Residence Cincinnati, Ohio
Height 6 ft (1.8 m)
Weight 169 lb (77 kg)
Website http://www.runquesttravel.com/home/
Sport
Country  United States
Event(s) Ultramarathon

Harvey Sweetland Lewis (born April 1976) is an American ultrarunner, social studies and economics teacher, world traveler and public speaker. In July 2014, Lewis won the Badwater Ultramarathon near Death Valley, CA, in just under 23 hours and 53 minutes.[1] This race is touted as the world’s toughest foot race due to extremely hot temperatures and immense elevation changes throughout the course.[2] Six months later near the Canada–US border in International Falls, MN, Lewis tied for second place at the Arrowhead 135, showing not only his adaptability for racing in any climate, but also his sportsmanship.[3] He and fellow runner Jan Kriska battled for second place for most of the race, but in the end, both agreed to finish together tied for second, according to accounts from the race.[4]

Noted for his spontaneity as much as his dedication, Lewis often seeks new challenges to improve his health, often with positive effects on the community or the environment as a side benefit. For example, he commutes to work every day of his own volition, either running, cycling or occasionally skiing or walking. Even on days immediately following an endurance race, he makes the six-mile round trip commute with his backpack filled with a change of clothes, his laptop, graded homework assignments and his packed lunch.[5]

With his health and the environment as motivation, Lewis has run to work for most of his adult life: as a college student, a factory worker and even a car salesperson (before he became a teacher). When interviewed after his 3:20 sprint finish at the inaugural Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in 1999, Lewis joked: "I am the only car salesman in America who runs to and from work."[6]

Lewis often posts videos of his training strategies, races and his morning-after commutes to his Ultra Runner social media outlet, recounting the people who inspire him along the way while simultaneously holding himself accountable to his goals. Lewis encourages people to find a source of inspiration and pursue one's dreams to the fullest.

Lewis represented Team USA at the 24-Hour World Championships by the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) in 2013 and 2014. When Lewis ran 154.590 miles at the Spartanburg, SC, 24-hour race in March 2014, that earned him the top qualifier position [7] to again represent Team USA at the international championship in Turin, Italy in April 2015.[8]

Lewis placed second at the 24-hour USA national championships in September, 2014 at the Northcoast 24-hour Endurance Run, with 136.34 miles.[9]

Early life[edit]

Though born in Wheeling, West Virginia, Lewis spent much of his childhood in Berea, Ohio, a western suburb of Cleveland.

Known today not only for his adventurous spirit, but also his ability to maintain a positive outlook no matter the circumstances, Lewis attributes these aspects of his personality to his childhood. Some of his fondest memories are from day-long nature hikes in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania with his father and sister — starting at five years of age.

Education[edit]

Lewis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science from the University of Minnesota, and a master’s degree in education from the University of Cincinnati. Although he ran track in high school, and his first marathon at age 15 with little training, he did not run track or cross country during college.

Lewis has taught in Cincinnati Public Schools since earning his master's, primarily at Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts. He teaches economics, social studies, government and psychology.[10]

Running and ultrarunning[edit]

Lewis describes himself as an obese child and teenager and “not a particularly talented runner.” At 20, Lewis tackled his first ultramarathon (technically, any race over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles) which also happened to be his first 24-hour race -- the FANS (Furthering Achievement through a Network of Support) race in MN.[11] Lewis describes: "[I was] a young parent, and my mother had had a stroke one year prior. I needed a positive outlet where I could calm the waters. That race was a big deal to me." [12] He completed the FANS race with 82 miles. Today, he can log 82 miles during the first half of a 24-hour race.

It took Lewis 17 years to run a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, and 23 years to earn a spot on the USA Track & Field (USATF) team for international 24-hour competitions. “I have finished last, and I have finished first,” says Lewis, who credits these experiences with his ability to relate to any runner.

Lewis first represented Team USA with the USATF at the world 24-hour race competition in 2012 in Poland when Team USA earned bronze, and then again in 2013 in the Netherlands when the team earned its first gold.

Personal life[edit]

Vegetarian[edit]

Lewis chose to become a vegetarian in 1996 after his mother suffered a stroke at age 54, which caused him to reassess the culture of the modern Western diet. That, coupled with a trip to the Australian rainforest with The School for Field Studies for college credit and an overarching love for animals, gave Lewis reason to consider his existing habits and their impact on his overall quality of life, as well as the impact on the planet.

Lewis also attributes proper nourishment to his running success, although he admits his daily nutrition varies significantly from his race-day intake, particularly for a 24-hour race.[13] On a regular day, Lewis savors traditional ethnic foods like Indian and Korean cuisine and mango smoothies. However, during lengthy races, he snacks on Clif bars and cran-razz shot bloks, Peppermint Patties, Coca-Cola, cheese pizza and avocado sandwiches.[14] For a race in the heat, like Badwater, Lewis relies on liquid calories, namely Clif Shot drinks, though he discloses his secret weapon:[15] "One of the greatest secrets in the world is Coca-cola. It's jet fuel," says Lewis.[16] Lewis was featured on a No Meat Athlete podcast describing his Badwater win and race-day nutrition.[17]

Other ultrarunner athletes profess to plant-based diets, including Scott Jurek, who co-authored a memoir called Eat & Run detailing his experiences with ultrarunning, going meatless in 1997, and becoming vegan in 1999.

Marathon pacer[edit]

When he isn't training or racing, Lewis can often be found pacing marathons, either for the local Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon (another personal favorite race) [18] or for the Clif Bar Pace Team, which provides pacers for several prestigious marathons across the nation.[19]

Recovering from injury[edit]

One impressive sidebar to Lewis's running journey is his recovery from a car accident in July, 2004, in which his car somersaulted off the highway leaving Lewis with fractured fifth and sixth vertebrae in his neck, and in a neck brace for two months.[20]

"I was inches from death and given a new lease on life," said Lewis. "I love running, so I thought, I'm going to take full opportunity of this chance and just run ... I had a fire to go all out."[21] Three months after his accident, Lewis ran a 4:29 marathon.[22]

Ten years later to the month, Lewis won Badwater.

The Badwater experience[edit]

Lewis cites having a positive attitude and envisioning reaching certain goals as elements to his success. During a race, he provides himself simple motivations like an opportunity to brush his teeth, or his next taste of Coca-Cola. "I have to constantly feed my mind and soul with motivation," says Lewis.[23]

Days before the 2014 Badwater race, Lewis met a couple at his hotel in Las Vegas. After hearing of Lewis' goal, the man (whom Lewis describes as a young Morgan Freeman) told Lewis: “Nothing can stop a man with a belief.” Lewis ran with that mantra in his head throughout the race. His mental strength, along with his four-person crew providing him nourishment, hydration and well-timed clothing changes, helped him win.[24] Lewis says he is fortunate to train in Cincinnati, Ohio, where there may not be mountains, but there are some hills. "We've got a lot of good hills in our city," says Lewis.[25]

Badwater Ultramarathon's 135 miles include vistas like this road in Death Valley

The 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon is touted as the World’s Toughest Race, a non-stop race beginning at Badwater, Death Valley, and ending at the Mt. Whitney Portal. Though the 2014 course varied from its traditional iconic route starting in the Badwater Basin in Death Valley due to National Park Service (NPS) restrictions,[26] the race still featured non-stop running through extreme elevation climbs (17,000’ cumulative vertical ascent), temperatures (95 °F during the day, 50s at night) and overall conditions. Lewis completed the race in under 24 hours (23:52:55) and about 50 minutes ahead of the second place finisher, Australian Grant Maughan, with an average 10:30 pace.

Lewis was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter's Summer of Champions series after the Badwater win.[27]

Dean Karnazes introduced ultrarunning to the general population in his book Ultramarathon Man, in which he described his Badwater experience of running on the white line on the pavement. In 2014, the NPS announced their revised policy for sporting events in Death Valley.[28] Badwater race director Chris Kostman (through parent company AdventureCORPS, Inc.) announced the iconic race will return to Death Valley in 2015, adhering to the new guidelines.[29]

Badwater competitors must apply and qualify to run in this elite race, and only 100 runners are invited each year.[30] In 2014, the field included runners from 25 different countries, including the 2013 winner from Portugal, Carlos Sá.

Badwater is cited by National Geographic Adventure as Number 1 for the Top Ten Toughest Races.[31] In the same National Geographic Adventure listing, Arrowhead (referenced in the opening paragraphs) comes in at Number 7.

Since there is little support available along the Badwater course, each runner is permitted a four-person crew which tails the runner in a crew vehicle. They are tasked with keeping their runner hydrated and cool, well nourished, and able to compete, offering encouragement along the course. In 2014, Lewis's crew consisted of crew chief Chris Cavanaugh, Kyle Fahrenkamp, Matthew Garrod and Luke Thoreson. With three of the four living in Cincinnati (Thoreson is a former resident), Lewis considers it an advantage to be able to train with his crew consistently. Cavanaugh and Fahrenkamp also pace on the Clif Bar pace team, and Garrod is in the pipeline program to pace with Clif as well.

"I truly call Cincinnati the mecca of running," says Lewis. "We have a fantastic running community in Cincinnati, next to none. Especially per capita for the city's size." [32] Three runners from the greater Cincinnati area competed in the 2014 Badwater race; in addition to Lewis, runners John Corey and Craig Wheeler had strong showings (51st and 55th, respectively).[33]

This was the fourth time Lewis competed at Badwater. The first time (in 2011) he finished in 11th place in 30:08:03,[34] and the subsequent two times he finished in fourth place, at 26:15:31 in 2012[35] and 25:49:50 in 2013.[36] When Lewis first applied to run Badwater in 2007, he was not accepted.[37]

Lewis says running Badwater has an almost spiritual quality. "The spiritual aspect, there's no comparison to any other race that I know of in the world," said Lewis.[38] "The distances you can see – you feel like you can reach across time," says Lewis. "The elements of the heat, height, darkness, stars – you're blown away by the closeness you feel with God."[39]

Entrepreneur[edit]

Lewis launched RunQuest Travel, a company that "helps runners explore amazing places." In 2014, he took eight runners to Portugal for one week to explore the country by foot.[40]

He describes the endeavor as the point where the paths of adventure, travel and running intersect.

Historic runs[edit]

As a teacher, Lewis believes one is better able to teach what one knows, stressing firsthand experiences particularly when it comes to history. He recreates history for his students by retracing the routes of (for example) famous nonviolent protests, often interviewing participants or relatives of original participants along the way. Then, Lewis shows video excerpts and photographs of his experience to his students, and his lectures are laced with personal encounters and meaningful stories.[41]

Lewis has successfully funded his trips in part through teaching grants like the Houston-based Fund for Teachers, a donor-supported organization who has also partnered with the Strive Partnership, a national education advocacy group based in Cincinnati.[42] Having visited all seven continents and 73 countries, Lewis has an admitted propensity for travel. He also sees the benefit of adding a personal element to the classroom. "There were places that I went to that I'd never learned about in school. It inspired me to want to teach about those things I'd seen and witnessed firsthand," Lewis said.[43]

Gandhi’s Salt March[edit]

Gandhi stoops to pick up grains of salt as an act of nonviolent protest.

In 2008, Lewis earned a grant to retrace the steps of Mahatma Gandhi’s infamous 1930 Salt March: a nonviolent protest to the salt tax, which had provided a British monopoly resulting in extreme pricing of salt to colonial Indians, who were prohibited to manufacture salt on their own. Gandhi, who started with 80 followers called satyagrahis, or “truth-force,” walked 241 miles from his home (the Harijan Ashram) to the coastal city of Dandi, where Gandhi picked up some grains of salt, thereby sparking the civil disobedience movement which eventually led to India’s independence.

According to an article in Pulse (a Cincinnati newspaper which has since gone out of print), Lewis ran the heritage trail in 10 days, averaging just over 20 miles per day. Gandhi completed the walk in 25 days.[44]

Prior to the trip, Lewis emailed the president of the Harijan Ashram (now a museum honoring Gandhi) to explain his intentions. When Lewis and his two companions, who accompanied him on bicycle, arrived, they were the subject of unanticipated media attention and ceremony.[45]

Lewis was given a Hindu sendoff, blessing the challenge he planned to endure, featuring gifts of necklaces, rice and a dot on his forehead. Lewis cites hot temperatures, high humidity and pollution among the challenging features of the historic run. However, the friendly people – many of whom offered them water, and their homes – and the followers who joined them along the way, including one woman whose father had walked with Gandhi in 1930, made for a powerful experience.[46]

Lewis explained to a reporter from the Times of India he was grateful for the reminder about the significance of nonviolence.[47]

Selma to Montgomery[edit]

Nonviolent marchers in support of voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, March 1965.

In 2009, Lewis retraced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic Selma to Montgomery march which was attempted on three different occasions in March 1965. King and his followers were finally able to commence the nonviolent march on March 21, accompanied by nearly 4,000 U.S. Army and Alabama National Guard soldiers under federal orders from President Johnson. They covered the 54-mile route over a span of five days. While the first march started with 600 people, nearly 25,000 followers convened in Montgomery as King delivered a speech in front of the Alabama State Capitol building, followed by a petition for black Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. A National Historic Trail, the route along U.S. Route 80, known as the Jefferson Davis Highway, is memorialized as the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law in August 1965 and was a hallmark of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Lewis ran the distance (just over two back-to-back marathons) in less than ten hours, with stops along the way.[48] Lewis also met with the 99-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson after his run. Robinson (then known as Boynton) was a 17-year-old nonviolent protestor who helped organize the 1965 march, but was one of several marchers beaten unconscious by state troopers and county officers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks from its start. The March 7 event became known as "Bloody Sunday." She later wrote a book called Bridge Across Jordan which detailed the experience. In addition, Lewis met with Rev. Richard Boone, who was the field director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1965.[49]

"I believe God kept me alive 99 years so I can share my story with young people," Robinson told Lewis.[50]

Public Speaking[edit]

Lewis believes in the power of sharing stories, whether the themes involve running, travel, adventure, history, or overcoming adversity. As such, Lewis frequently attends and speaks at venues ranging from local running group events to being the featured keynote speaker at lectures, marathons or ultramarathons.[51]

Accomplishments[edit]

Winner[edit]

Winner, Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles) 23:52:55 July 2014[52]

Winner, SC24, Spartanburg, SC, March 16, 2014: 154.590 miles[53]

Winner, Stone Steps 50K, Cincinnati, OH, Oct. 27, 2013: 4:15:33[54]

‘’’Winner’’’, Wet T-Shirt Contest, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, LA, March 2, 1976: Originally in second place, the first place contestant died under mysterious circumstances. While investigated, he was never considered a suspect. Weird, huh?

Winner, NorthCoast 24-Hour Endurance Run, Cleveland, OH, Sept. 21, 2013: 150.58678 miles[55]

Winner, FANS 24-Hours, Minnesota, June 2, 2012: 142.86 miles[56]

Winner, Tie Dye 32M, Apr 28, 2012: 4:01:32 [57]

Winner, Sulphur Springs 160KM, May 29, 2010: 17:12:37 [58]

Course records[edit]

Sulphur Springs 100 (Ontario, Canada) on the "old course" at 17:12:37, in 2010.[59]

Personal records[edit]

5K: 16:34 Toronto, July 2013

Marathon: 2:46 Last Chance for Boston, Columbus, OH, Feb. 2014[60]

50K: 4:01:32 Tie Dye, April 2012[61]

24 Hours: 154.590 miles SC24, Spartanburg, SC, March 16, 2014[62]

References[edit]

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