by Jade Belzberg
What do Dean Karnazes, Mike Wardian, Scott Jurek and Jeremy Sanders have in common? They are all runners, but more importantly, they are all fathers first. Jeremy Sanders is also a proud INKnBURN Ambassador and author behind the popular blog, “Running Dad.” In October 2012, two years after Jeremy started running, he stumbled across the domain www.RunningDad.com for sale and something clicked: what if he started a blog documenting his running journey? It would be a site where fathers could find running tips and connect with other dads who ran. He started working on a logo; shortly after, he created his first blog post.
Sanders’ first few blog posts detailed the races he ran. He then went on to review shoes, at which point his blog started attracting visits. His most popular blog post to date is an informative post on the treadmill set-up he designed, complete with TV and wireless audio set-up.
Since 2012, Jeremy Sanders has amassed a following of runners, both male and female, looking to balance work, family and running. RunningDad.com uses fonts reminiscent of superhero strips, complete with comic hero-esque detailing. In many ways, RunningDad promotes the idea of a superhero’s lifestyle–saving the day while still leading a normal life; in layman’s terms, balancing work with family life, and balancing family life with running.
Though Sanders is known as The Running Dad now, he wasn’t always a runner. Long before he started the blog, and before he had his two sons, Cole and Connor, aged 10 and 4, Sanders was a father-to-be, excited to meet his son, Lucas. “We already had everything ready for him,” says Sanders. “His room, outfits, everything.” His wife, Jen, was 31 weeks pregnant when she complained of back pain. A regular baby appointment was set up on for mid-September, but with Jen’s typical work day totaling more than 13 hours, the majority of it on her feet, back pain was, as Sanders puts it, “nothing out of the ordinary.” On September 17, 2002, the day of Jen’s appointment, an ultrasound indicated that something was wrong. Fluid on the baby’s lungs and under the skin sent Sanders and his wife to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Viriginia. “The doctors decided that having Lucas by C-section was his best chance,” says Sanders. The appointment was scheduled for the next day. “We spent the night listening to his heartbeat on the monitor that the doctors had attached to Jen. It was strong,” he says. On September 18th, the C-section was performed and Lucas was born.
Unfortunately, Lucas lived only an hour in the NICU. He was born with Hydrops fetalis–a condition in which an abnormal amount of fluid is built up in two or more body areas. Lucas’ lungs weren’t strong enough to survive the condition, and he passed within the hour.
The entire Sanders family was in shock hearing the news that Lucas didn’t make it. “We all turned our attention to helping Jen recover from surgery,” Sanders says, “but we were all devastated. They brought Lucas to our room so we could spend a little time with him. We cherish that time and wish we could have had more with him.”
The hardest thing Sanders has ever had to is leave the hospital empty handed after he had planned to leave with Lucas. “It brought us closer as a family as we focused on physical and mental healing,” he says, although learning how to manage loss was a different experience entirely.
In the days following, Sanders focused on his wife’s recovery post-surgery. Once they returned home, Sanders turned to drawing, creating an illustration that, he says, captured the emotion of his loss. While art and graphic design were one outlet, another was food, and yet another drink. “I was spiraling into a bad pattern of self-destructive behavior,” he says.
It wasn’t until years later that Sanders decided to change his life–in more ways than he could have imagined. The birth of their son, Connor, in 2006 brought more activity than they had bargained for into their lives. As Connor grew older, his participation in sports increased. One day, while waiting in a gymnasium where Connor was playing basketball, Sanders looked around him. “I was surrounded by out-of-shape dads playing on their cellphones,” he says. “I decided I didn’t want that to be me.”
Sanders decided he wanted to lose weight, and to do so he would start running. After just one run, he was hooked. The weight came off quickly. “I lost 40 pounds over the course of the year,” he says. Sanders began coaching for all of the team sports that Connor played. “I became an involved dad, no longer on the sidelines.” With the addition of Cole, in 2012, Sanders became even more involved with his children’s activities. Additionally, his own running took off: since then, he’s completed 6 marathons (including two Boston Marathons), a 50-miler, and countless 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons. One year ago, Sanders turned 40 and ran sub-3 hour marathon. “I’m not slowing down!” He says. His most recent placement of 24th out of 5,445 runners at the Shamrock Half Marathon (3/18/17) and age group (40-45) win with a 1:21:27 is proof that he has, indeed, sped up!
While Jen is not a runner, as Sanders puts it, she is equally active in obstacle racing and mud runs, in addition to staying fit with group classes. They’re both also active in the fundraiser, The Lucas Fund, that they created shoryl after Lucas passed. “When I started running, I decided that I would donate a dollar for every mile that I run to the Lucas Fund,” he says. The monthly donations have grown to over $200 as Sanders puts in his training mileage; additionally, several fundraisers and challenges on RunningDad.com have helped raise money. To date, the Lucas Fund has raised over $30,000 for babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UVA.
Outside of fundraising, Sanders has also become a coach. “I always have people asking me for advice on running since they had seen my steady improvement in health and running performance,” he says. “I wanted to make sure I was giving good advice.” Sanders completed the Road Runners Club of America’s Coaching Certification course and became a licensed coach. Sanders gives credit to his personal running coach who has helped him realize that everyone can use motivation to both exceed their comfort zone or pull in the reins when needed. “I love to help people reach their goals in a way that they stay injury free and still have time for their families.”
While running is Sanders’ passion, his first love his still his family. What makes Sanders’ family special, however, is that they’ve all embraced running in some form, whether through running, fundraising, or sharing the joy of movement. Connor, especially, has embraced running. “He isn’t hesitant at all to enter races and push himself, but at the same time he doesn’t beat himself up when he does not do as well as he was expecting.”
Most important to Sanders is that his children can see how much work he puts into training and how it pays out in the end by achieving his goals. “I hope they learn that they can set goals and reach them by working hard.” Sanders’ goals for the future include finding interesting destinations races where he ran bring his family, creating a fun trip for everyone. Eventually he hopes to be a full-time coach–“I just need a couple hundred more clients and a generous company to sponsor me!” In the meantime, he has a busy race schedule including the Boston Marathon and the Yeti 100 in September!
For more information, check out the Sanders’ fundraising page, The Lucas Fund, here: http://getinvolved.uvahealth.com/site/TR?fr_id=1130&pg=entry
For great content on fitness, family and health, check out Jeremy Sanders’ blog RunningDad.com here: http://www.runningdad.com
Jeremy’s favorite INKnBURN design: INKnBURN’s Men’s Black and White Octopus Singlet: “It has a sinister and aggressive look–perfect for racing!”