On August 6, 2011, a military helicopter with the call sign “Extortion 17” carrying crew members was shot down by Taliban forces outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. Claiming the lives of all 31 American soldiers aboard made it the single greatest loss of life incident from Operation Enduring Freedom.
One of the warriors who lost his that day was Jon “JT” Tumilson. Tumilson was very active in the San Diego running and triathlon scene when home from deployments and one of his friends and closest supporters from that time was ultrarunner, UltraMan World Champ and all-around endurance legend Mike Rouse. A long-time supporter of American military personnel and the US Navy SEAL community and associated charitable organizations, Rouse wrapped up an incredible feat of endurance last week in honor of the memory of the men lost in Extortion 17.
Slowtwitch: Can you tell us how the 31/31/31 challenge idea came about?
Mike Rouse: The whole idea of 31 for 31 for 31 actually started in July of 2012 when I helped start the Joggin for Frogmen 5K Race and 24 Hour Run in San Diego. My dear friend and running buddy, Navy SEAL Jon “JT” Tumilson was on Extortion 17. Trisha Snelgrove and Aleeza Goggins met with me and we established Joggin for Frogmen to initially be held around the first anniversary of the event.
I ran for 24 Hours on the 5K (3.1 mile) course, with each loop being run in honor of one of the crew members, until I had run for all 31. Immediately after I finished, we held the race to honor those heroes. It was a great success and is still going today. We’ve added eight other 5K races across the US to the series. To date we’ve raised about $2.6 million for The Navy SEAL Foundation. They are underwritten by The Veterans United Foundation, allowing all proceeds to go to the charity. It’s been such a great opportunity to raise not only funds, but also awareness of the sacrifice of those 31 lives, and their surviving families.
This year, due to all of the postponements and cancellations of almost all races, we have had to switch our events to virtual races. It’s great to offer the alternative, but we do not have the same entrant numbers and there’s not that face-to-face opportunity to share the stories of those men. It’s tough, but it’s the right thing to do under the circumstances. All that said, after the first 30-plus days of being at home, not working, no travel, and starting to get generally bored to death, but also having the time and energy to do a lot of running and thinking, I came up with the idea of doing an event to further raise funds and awareness of the 31 Heroes of #Extortion17.
After much thought and consideration, I started planning and came up with 31 for 31 for 31. Run 31 miles a day, celebrating the 31 Heroes, for the 31 days of May. And since May includes Memorial Day, honoring the ultimate sacrifices of our military, it just made sense! The timing, my desire, my fitness, and my admiration for these men and their families, took me to a plan of promoting this amazing group. I called up my dear friend, Morgan Luttrell, to get his thoughts and a possible charity, and he suggested The Boot Campaign, which serves our military with issues of PTSD, mental illness, depression, and other associated issues upon their return to society. I jumped on it, and the plan was put in progress!
ST: What type of shape were you in at the start of May? How did your body hold up throughout the month?
Rouse: I was in awesome shape when my 31 mile per day quest began. I have done a ton of long runs and ultra races, and multi-day events, but never anything to this extreme. I felt positive and confident that I could handle the distance and the length of the event, but that said, that much running could take a toll on your body if you aren’t careful. I started out carefully and calculated, knowing I needed to gain an understanding of how each day’s effort would impact the next day. I did really well, I believe, as I can honestly say I never had a situation where I felt I was “in trouble”. I stayed the course, and each week I “upped my game” in regards to walk breaks, speed, and hydration to make sure I would be ready for all 31 days. By the time day 31 came around, I obviously knew I was going to complete the task, with one last mission to accomplish. Day #31 was in honor of JT, so I wanted to run the fastest time of the month and break 5:00 hours. The previous fastest day had been 5:11. I took the first half out at a comfortable pace, and at the 15.5 mile turn around, I “dropped the hammer”, and ran a 25 minute negative split! I ran a 4:47.
ST: Texas in May can be blistering. How did you schedule your runs?
Rouse: First off, I’m a true 100% Texan: I love the heat! Always have. I knew that sleeping and rest were of utmost importance, so I went to bed around 9:30-10:00pm each night and did not set any alarm clock to let my body sleep and rest as needed. I’d get up, walk my dog, eat breakfast, review emails and some small correspondence, and get hydrated for the day. Because of the quarantine, I couldn’t have a crew and had to run on sidewalks and streets with little to no traffic in lieu of regular running paths and trails, I had to manage it all myself. I established routes of 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 14 miles. That allowed me to come back to my house, refill water bottles, get nutrition, and continue on. On the cooler days I’d do the longer loops; on hotter days the shorter loops for more opportunities for hydration. It worked out really well.
ST: How did you recover after each day’s run to prepare for the next day?
Rouse: My recovery plan was simple. Lots of hydration, a ton of calories, rest, and just mentally preparing for the next day. My focus on the lives and the sacrifice of each man was paramount, so I’d also spend some time each evening looking up that hero and finding out more about them. It gave me food for thought as I would recall their lives, their families that are left behind -- sometimes with wives and children, or a fiancee, or just dear friends and parents and siblings. It charged me to finish each run as if they were running beside me.
ST: What was the most difficult stretch you had? Was there a particular moment or points throughout each run?
Rouse: I never really hit much difficulty until probably day 27-28. For some reason, my mind began to tell me (which it’s done many times in a 24 Hour Run, or 100 Mile Race) “Mike, what are you doing? You’ve run 31 miles, 50K, every day for 4 weeks….be done with it!” It was like someone at the end of a marathon or an Ironman, that collapses because they mentally were done. I felt it, but was not about to quit!
ST: Do you recall when your support of the Navy SEALs Community started?
Rouse: My support for Navy SEALs comes from my introduction and friendship to two Navy SEALs, JT, and his best friend and roommate (who’s name I can’t use as he is still active), through my running group in San Diego back in 2002. We met at Kevin McCarey’s Saturday morning workout group at Ski Beach and became instant buddies. We trained together on Saturdays, did other runs together, and went to parties together or just met up for beers occasionally. It was all about running and fun, nothing military-oriented….a safe environment and to get away from their jobs.
A few weeks after we met, JT approached me one day and asked if he could call me “Pops'' and if I’d be his “West Coast Daddy”. No-brainer! I’ve helped some with the local race held in his honor, the Go Crush It 5K, in his hometown of Rockford, Iowa. I often do runs in honor of other SEALs I’ve met through JT, including a 4 Mile Run in The Woodlands, Texas, for Marcus Luttrell and Team Never Quit. I’ll always use my passion for running to speak to my passion for our military.
ST: You can often be heard saying “running has been so good to me”. Can you tell us what you mean by that?
Rouse: Long story short, my very first run of my life was on January 16, 1986, on the prison yard where I was incarcerated in El Reno, Oklahoma at FCI El Reno. I spent 14 months in prison on a five year sentence for drugs. I could not run a mile without stopping, and it was five laps around the yard to get two miles. I ran and walked it until I did it, and by the time I left 14 months later I was running 6-7 miles a day in my hour on the yard out of my cell. It gave me back physical, emotional, and mental strength. I thought life for me was over with a criminal record, financial ruin, had to get new friends, start over on a new career. I thought I’d forever be “just another guy”. But running gave me a passion and a hope. I got into the business after prison, and been rewarded beyond my wildest dreams in my career, financially, friends, and a platform of giving back. I’m one lucky man.
ST: Can you tell us how you choose to celebrate your birthday every year?
Rouse: Since I was 35 years old I have run my age on my birthday, in miles, to celebrate life. About 20 years ago I began doing it in Kona, on the Monday before the Ironman World Championships race, up and down Ali’i Drive. It’s a 5 mile out, 5 mile back, route, and I’m joined by friends to run portions of it with me. I celebrate life, and running, and have my dear friends out there with me on my favorite place on earth. How can you have a better birthday party! I finish, head to my favorite restaurant, Huggo’s, where I’m joined by my friends for a Mikey Mai Tai!
You can follow Mike Rouse's running adventures on Instagram at @mikerousesruntexas.