What if you can? Picture: Robert Gantz.
In our community, we call each other Outrunners. An Outrunner is someone who runs to stay ahead of the darkness, and in the process inspire those around them.
In Meet the Outrunners you will get to know some of them better, what drives them, what their struggles are and what has helped them get past them. Today you will get to meet Outrunner Robert Gantz.
Since joining our community he has been making his mark with encouraging posts, #bowtietuesdays, #whatifyoucanwednesdays and a seemingly impossible challenge: running 4 miles every 4 hours for 100 hours.
Seeing the Outrunner community rally behind him on his 4x4x100 challenge and join him on his last laps towards the finish line, it became obvious he needed to get his own Outrun the dark Signature Tee, and we are happy to announce that the Outrun x Robert Limited Edition Tee (pictured above and below) is now available here!
#runwithrobert Picture: Robert Gantz.
To kick it off, to new readers who might not know who Robert Gantz is, can you tell us a little bit bout yourself?
I am a husband, a father, and a son foremost. I am a retired member of the United States Force and a current 1st-grade teacher. My wife Meg and I have been married 6 years this October and we have 2 kids. Sebastian is going to be 5 in September and Sophia just turned 3 in April. I am an ultra runner with a passion for exploring new routes and including others in my journey.
What led you to running and specifically Ultrarunning?
Well, I actually stumbled upon becoming a runner. I never enjoyed running growing up because I always played team sports. Running was used as a punishment in those sports. Naturally, I wouldn’t care for it. Then when I joined the Air Force I had a friend ask if I wanted to go to a 10k race with him and run it. I had zero desire but entertained the idea to humor him. I got 3rd in my age group. The following weekend I ran a 5k and got 3rd overall. I was instantly hooked. Then I’ve gradually shifted to ultra running because the time on my feet and by myself is so therapeutic. I also am very goal-oriented and always want to see what I can achieve or how far I can go.
Up to his usual antics along the trails. Picture: Robert Gantz.
What was it about that running that first 10k got you hooked?
I seemed to be naturally good at it and it was something that was solely individual. In team sports, your outcome relies on so many other factors. In running, the only factor on your performance is you. You are competing against yourself, your mind, your body. Sure there are other people there but your performance is an indication of how much work you put in and how much you want it.
In what way do you find running therapeutic?
I have always made my biggest life decisions while running. I decided to separate from Active Duty while running the San Antonio Marathon. I decided to move back to Pennsylvania from Texas during a run. I am able to clear my mind and with each foot strike on the pavement or trail, I’m leaving some unnecessary stressor behind me.
Do you go running when you have a big decision to make - or does the right decision unveil itself to you while running?
Typically the right decision unveils itself while running or even causing me to reconsider a previous decision with alternate options arising.
Is there a certain threshold you have to cross in order to get these mental benefits?
Usually for me, my mind starts to clear after the first 10-15 steps. It can be difficult for me to get the motivation to go out for a “short” run but even the short ones provide a lot of benefits.
How do you get yourself out the door on the days you don't want to or feel like it?
My wife created a motivation board for me for Christmas this past year. It has running pictures and quotes tacked all over it. One of my favorite quotes is “sometimes the best runs come on the days you want to run the least”
Robert's Motivation board. Picture: Robert Gantz.
So does that mean you go running no matter what, even on the days you don't feel like it?
This is something I’ve gotten better about. I used to be very stubborn and would run at all times. Wouldn’t listen to my body. Didn’t follow a training plan. I quickly learned this would lead to a very short running career. If it’s a mental thing holding me back I’ll go run if it’s a run day. I’ll rest on rest days. If it’s something physical holding me back, IE the onset of an injury, I’ll rest. I want to be able to run for the long haul so I’ve started following training plans and allowing my body to recover.
So where did you first hear about Outrun the dark and the Outrunner family?
Actually found it through an ad. I saw the shirt and was really intrigued by what it was.
What was it about «outrun the dark» name that struck a chord with you?
I really liked the whole premise of using running to get through your difficult times. Outrunning things is always in my nature!
What does Outrun the Dark mean to you?
To me, Outrun the Dark means to outrun anything that may be weighing you down in daily life. We each have our own darknesses that we need to cope with and sometimes outrunning them is the best way.
Run Hard Live Easy. Picture: Robert Gantz.
Could you tell us what you like about the Outrunner community and how the #outrunner tattoo came about?
So I love how the community supports each other no matter the circumstances, and the almost immediate bond I felt with everyone. We can go to each other for anything and everything. We celebrate the wins and support each other through tough times as well. We do a great job of not pressing when someone goes quiet but we still look out for them. We truly are a family.
I got the tattoo to remind myself that I am an outrunner at all times, not only when I’m running. Each day is a battle and brings different challenges. I can’t always physically run, but I’m always outrunning.
And now you are getting your own Signature Outrunner T-shirt! What does that mean to you and how does it make you feel?
Oh man, I can’t even put it into words what it means. I remember seeing the other signature tees, obviously with Steve first and thinking, “wow, what an impact he must have on this community to have such an honor of getting his own shirt”. Then to see Jeff and Britt get theirs after seeing their impact in the group I knew it was the highest of honor. I am still in shock over how many reached out or commented saying we needed a shirt for me. I hope I can inspire and have half the impact that Steve, Jeff and Britt have in the community!
So tell us about the design, what is the significance of the bowtie and what is #bowtietuesday?
So, as a teacher, we have to wear a shirt and tie to work. I had a college professor who wore bow ties pretty frequently. I was intrigued by the design so I started researching some bow tie companies, there aren’t as many as normal tie companies. I found one in a department store that was the company Bow tie Tuesday and I thought it had a great ring to it. I elected to dedicate Tuesdays as Bow tie Tuesday for work. Then I started posting those pics in our group and it really grew. People were waiting for bow tie pictures. Many group members even starting wearing bow ties on Tuesdays and asking about Bow tie shirts and bow tie runs. It’s just something I started doing to be a bit different and a reminder as not to take yourself too seriously.
And the design says "What if you can?" - what does that question mean to you?
All of my life, people (including myself) have told me that I can’t do things or that I won’t be able to accomplish something. So I decided to flip that and instead of just accepting “I can’t do that or I won’t be able to do it.” I flipped it to say “what if you can...?” and ask that question instead of just accepting you can’t.
Do you have a recent example when you asked yourself this question?
The most recent example of when I asked myself this question, was when I completed the 4x4x100 challenge. I ran 4 miles every 4 hours for 100 hours, and ended up running 100 miles over a 4-day span. I had a lot of people ask me why I’m doing or that I wouldn’t be able to complete it with having to get up in the middle of the night for 4 days on little sleep.
At times I didn’t think I would be able to do it but I kept asking what if I can and I kept posting in the group and the support was remarkable. People running virtually with me at all hours of the day with #runwithrobert / #runningwithrobert, some even running further than they ever ran before to join me in the challenge. It may be my all-time favorite running experience to date.
Picture collage of the Outrunners joining the 4x4x100 challenge. Picture: Nicole Zeller Williams.
What are you passionate about outside running and your dayjob?
I am very passionate about helping others. I enjoy volunteering. I used to be a big brother in the big brother big sister program. I coach youth sports. Our family has a camper and I love camping and being outside.
What has been the most trying part of your life up until now? What helped you get through it?
I’ve had a lot of things happen that it is hard for me to pinpoint exactly what would be me the most trying part for me would be. The easy answer would be when my dad prematurely ended his life and then 5 months later my cousin I grew up with did the same thing. My wife says that is when I really dug into my running and turned the corner with my own battle against the darkness.
So sorry to hear that! If you don't mind me asking, how long ago did this happen?
It was August 2018. I’m pretty open about all of this stuff. I don’t like to hide anything as it helps tell my story.
Did you battle with any darkness before this yourself?
Yes I did, I was in a near-fatal airplane accident in August of 2015, 1 month before my son was born. I was almost crushed in the cargo door of the plane I was flying on in the Air Force. It is the reason I got out of the military. I had a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and was diagnosed with PTSD, Depression, anxiety with adjustment order after that. While the diagnosis was official. I battled many of those things without knowing it growing up.
How are you dealing with these things today?
I’m doing really well. I have a good combination of running, monthly therapy sessions that used to be biweekly and a good set of meds plus an outstanding support system.
How did the accident change your mindset or perspective?
Well at the time it happened I didn’t think I was ever going to meet my child. At that time we didn’t know if we were having a boy or girl. I vowed to be as present as I could be for my family in every moment. I struggled with it for awhile which is why I went to therapy.
I wasn’t very present and I needed to change my mindset. The therapy really helped that. I’ve been much better the last year at being present.
Do you have any advice for your 10 or 20 years younger self?
Ooo that’s an easy one. Show grace to yourself and to others when mistakes are made. No one is perfect, including yourself. Use the mistakes to learn and grow. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Outside your family, what is it you are most proud of in your life?
I would easily say my military career. I won multiple awards during my time including a national level award for the entire Air National Guard. It was the Henry “Red” Erwin award for the most outstanding enlisted aviator.
Any one-off experiences that stand out?
Completing air drops over Afghanistan during deployments. Getting supplies to the troops on the ground.
How did you bring that mindset of high-achievement back into civilian life and teaching?
I have always felt the need to “prove myself” because of my childhood and that still sticks with me in my teaching. Plus as a child I relied on my teachers very heavily to be role models for me so I strive to be that same role model for a child who might need it. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher even when I joined the Air Force.
Was joining the Air Force something you wanted to do from early on?
Nope not even close. I joined the Air Force because i was going to college full time and working 3 jobs. I couldn’t handle it anymore and was looking for something different. I researched different options and found the Air Force to be the best option. I used them to pay for my bachelor's degree while I was on active duty and then they paid for my Masters' Degree when I got out.
Do you have any heroes that have inspired you along the way?
My biggest hero was my football coach in High School but he passed away from a car accident when I was still in high school. Now I find my inspiration from little moments or accomplishments more than I do from people. My inspiration as an ultra runner comes from wanting to be the best possible version of myself for my family. I find it very inspiring when “everyday” people do amazing things.
What made your football coach your hero?
He was so good at making sure I never settled, I always gave my best and he told me he wanted me to believe in me half as much as he believed in me. Same advice he gave me off the field too.
Are there any books or movies that stand out that have inspired you?
Well the book Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins inspired my 4x4x100 challenge, and what I listened to while doing it.
Also the book Unfinished by Brian Burk about an Olympic hopeful who had to overcome so much adversity in life to get where he is.
Do you have any other words you live by?
That's a perfect way to end this interview! Anything else you want to add before we wrap up?
Just want to say thank you again for giving me this opportunity to have a shirt and even more importantly, giving me the space to be unfiltered and uncut the way I am in the outrunner group!
We thank Robert for his time and remind everyone that the Outrun x Robert Limited Edition Tee is available here.