“Leave Tonight or Live and Die This Way”
Age group marathon runner Milo James took a leap of faith, leaving everything behind to follow signs towards something greater.
Have you ever had an overwhelming sense that you are headed down the wrong path? That you should just leave everything behind and follow your heart towards something new–even if you don’t fully understand what that is? Many of us have had this feeling, but very few have had the courage to take that leap of faith.
…Milo James took that leap in 2016.
“I was on my way to work and listening to the Jonas Blue Remix of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. It was the same commute I would do every day. Then the lyrics just hit me: We gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way.”
That one lyric led this former Nottingham restaurant manager across the world to discover himself as a passionate age group marathon runner, powered by a drive to motivate and inspire others.
Path to Nowhere
Following graduation from secondary school (high school), Milo landed himself a job in the restaurant business. For the next eight years, he committed himself to his career and worked his way up the ladder. By the age of 21, he was fully independent; he owned his own car, had his own flat, and was enjoying an active social life and lucrative pay check. Despite all of his successes, Milo wasn’t fulfilled.
“At work, there was a very clear vision on the path I was on. I knew exactly how the rest of my life would play out, and that terrified me. I didn’t realize how lost I was before because all I had was my job. I had no identity.”
So as Chapman’s lyrics played through the speakers of his car, Milo knew he had a decision to make.
“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know I need to do it and it scares the shit out of me.”
Milo put in his notice and ended his lease so that he could take a six month sabbatical to discover what else was out there for him. He abandoned everything he had worked so hard to build, noting, “Everything I spent my life working for, I gave up and moved home so I could commit to this vision.”
Sometimes you need to burn the ships to fully carry out your mission. “I moved back in with my mom for seven months after living on my own for years so I could save as much money as possible.”
In March of 2017, Milo landed in Melbourne, Australia, hoping to not only find work, but also find a bit of himself along the way.
No One Said Following Your Dreams Would Be Easy
For the first few weeks, Milo floated around, struggling to find a job and a stable place to stay. “It was such an amazing time but it was also such a rough time. I came from a manager in a stable job to struggling to find work.” said Milo, “Melbourne just wasn’t the right fit.” He spent those first few months bouncing around the country without any sense of foundation, second guessing his entire decision to leave.
It wasn’t until that July, when things started to fall into place. He landed a job in a popular hostel, in Sydney, securing both a steady income and a place to live. He worked long hours. Eventually he fell back into the same routine, focusing entirely on work and not prioritizing time for himself.
The “Signs” Are There, You Just Have to be Willing to See Them
When his visa ran out, Milo left Australia and backpacked across Asia. His vacation was coming to an end but before returning home, he decided to make one last stop.
“It was March of 2018 and New Zealand was the easiest next step.”
As he walked down the streets of Auckland, he saw a literal sign, a billboard, for the Auckland Marathon “Run the City”. With only five months to prepare for the race, he signed up to run it.
An Endurance Athlete is Born…Sort of
Milo had no prior running or endurance training experience. He was excited to give it a shot, but his priorities were misaligned. That summer, he spent more time going out with friends, drinking and smoking, than running or training.
So when race day finally arrived, Milo made the call not to run. He wasn’t physically ready. But just for the experience, he went to the race expo to check it out and snag a free hat. He felt a buzz in the air and the excitement of the athletes charged him; he decided he was going to run, prepared or not.
“I saw all these people so excited, they had worked so hard for this. I knew I needed to do this.”
The next day, Milo completed his first marathon in 6 hours and 4 min. The experience was eventful to say the least. To sum it up, Milo said:
“I got electrocuted when I accidentally touched an electric fence.”
“I had to go to the medical tent/ambulance for a swollen knee at mile 18 (30k).”
“The last four miles took me two hours.”
“At no point did I ever think I was going to finish.”
“After crossing the finish line, I crawled into an Uber, cried and went home.”
From the Ashes, A New Passion Arises
One week later, after the aches and pains subsided, a new feeling crept in. Milo remembers thinking, “Wow I did that, imagine if I trained.”
After running in a few shorter races, he made the commitment to start formally training and return for redemption the following year.
Milo built up his volume, keeping to long slow paces and eventually topped out at 35 to 40 miles per week (60k). When race day came, he didn’t have a goal time in mind, he just wanted to finish and feel good. “I had no target time other than the Oprah Winfrey time,” which was 4 hours and 29 minutes.”
With zero expectations other than smiling the entire race, Milo came over the final hill and saw the time clock. It read 3:51:00. He was about to break the 4 hour mark.
Unlike the last time, he crossed the finish line full of joy. “That’s when I realized when you put your mind to things, you’re a lot more capable than you think you are.”
Keep Pulling the Thread
Milo had found his calling. At the age of 26 he found a part of his true self: a runner that uses sport to inspire others to follow their passions. With the power of purpose and self discovery behind him, Milo took to social media under the handle, @Runderestimated (running underestimated).
“It’s always how I saw myself. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, just keep going.”
Bringing humor and reality to the sport, Milo’ core message has always been, “Pre-defined limits hold us back and are all mental. I can only do this or that. These are false limits we put on ourselves and need to be broken.”
It’s not all about speed and course records. “I get energy from those who are running the six hour marathons and get out there and do it every day. They’re training for their Everest.”
“It doesn’t have to be about running. If you’re passionate about anything, just go after it. Look at me 5 years ago, working in a restaurant in Nottingham, now I’m a runner in New Zealand. What I’ve given up financially, I’ve taken back in priceless experiences.”