Joe Phillips: “Operate life in a way that’s healthier.”
BROWNSVILLE – Joseph Phillips isn’t your average runner.
As a 12-year-old boy he considered himself awkward and hardly athletic. He had no clue that years later he’d run hundreds of miles in a single month, receiving awards and recognition for “a hobby.”
A small taste of a future that would prove otherwise began when he spotted a long-distance cycle in a local bicycle shop. Phillips spent the summer working in the shop and eventually secured the bike of his childhood dreams, riding up to 16 miles a day.
Those 16 miles pale in comparison, however, to Phillips’ current daily regimen. He began running long distances in 2009. He hit his all-time high this past January, running 356 miles for the month.
Running started as a means to kick a habit Phillips had acquired in college and has since become a means to escape the stresses of life.
“In December of 2008 I stopped smoking cold turkey,” Phillips said. “The first time I ran it was a quarter mile and I thought I was going to die. I came back and my knees were hurt.”
Despite that initial pain Phillips continued, determined to kick the smoking habit for his children. Whenever he felt the urge to smoke Phillips gave into another urge, running, and would exercise to the point of exhaustion.
“Basically all of my bad habits, they all [kind of] stopped,” Phillips said. “Anything interfering with my ability to run, I kicked that habit.”
He started running a few miles a day but soon his goals soon escalated to loftier ambitions: planning to complete a 10K.
Shocking even himself upon completion, Phillips shot for more. First he ran a half marathon, followed by a marathon.
He injured his knees during the marathon and returned home with a new mindset, aiming to run healthier and run further.
“When I was long distance running I had no idea what I was doing,” Phillips said. “But I really enjoyed it, I got very zen with it and approached it as mediation. I really wanted to operate my life in a way that’s healthier.”
Discovering a community of runners online, he joined an annual event called Janathon, which encourages [people to participate] in any form of exercise everyday, offering support to fellow participants through blogs and forums.
Though he planned to run 53 miles a day, Phillips participated simply for fun, never thinking he’d end up finishing the month with the most miles.
Running those 356 miles didn’t come without their struggles.
“I had to run during that polar vortex,” Phillips said. “I had to use a snorkel under my jacket to breathe so my lungs didn’t hurt. I mean the cold still bothered them, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”’
On the very last day of the challenge Phillips tripped and smashed his knee, which swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Knowing it was the last day to keep his lead, he continued running, dragging himself the three miles home in the snow.
There’s another side to this runner. When all the marathons have been completed and all his miles have been run for the day, Phillips finds another way to de-stress.
“The one thing that keeps me going other than running is painting,” Phillips said. “I had a wandering eye for most of my life and after corrective vision I was able to see so much more clearly. I got back into painting immediately and started coming up with all these projects.”
His work is a blend of realism and abstract and he says he’s inspired by his fever dreams and daily life. Phillips finds painting gives him a way to explore ideas that running can’t.
Though he has yet to display his work publicly he does hope to one day find an audience for his art. In the meantime, he’s happy to dabble in something that “tickles his fancy.”
“Both painting and running give me immense satisfaction and the ability to explores my imagination, but in different ways,” Phillips said. “Living a very stressful life both help me feel better about things and help me feel like I accomplished something.”
Phillips plans to complete Juneathon this month and is aiming to run a little more than 200 miles.
To keep up with his progress and see what he’s up to next, visit his website and blog at www.fiftystatebanana.com.
Story by Lauren Rearick for Pennsylvania Bridges