Matthew Randle opens our conversation by saying, “I love ultra marathons! I think I am addicted to them!” Matt is the Run Lead coordinator for Lifetime Fitness Center in Omaha, NE, so his love of long distance running makes perfect sense. What might surprise people is that Matt was actually born with a potentially deadly illness. He should not even be alive, let alone running what many people consider to be crazy distances.
Matt was born with a congenital disorder of the bile ducts, a condition known as Biliary Artresia. This condition causes bile to become trapped in the bile ducts, causing potentially life-threatening damage to the liver. As a baby, Matt had a surgery performed where the doctors constructed a new bile duct using part of his gallbladder. This was an experimental procedure at the time that Matt underwent the surgery, and he is one of the oldest known people to have had it done and survived. Matt spent a lot of time at Children’s Hospital in Denver, CO, when he was a child. He remembers, “I had three really rough flare-ups. I had one when I was a junior in high school. I would get jaundiced and very itchy because the bile backs up in the ducts. I had another one about four years ago. They had to go in through my side and put a stent in to open the bile duct back up. I also had one about 18 months ago. Knock on wood, I feel fantastic now.”
Though Matt got off to a physically rocky start in life, he developed into a strong athlete as a young man. He ran Cross Country and was on the track team in high school. He received a track scholarship for college. However, Matt eventually decided that he wanted to move on and try other things. Matt took an extended break from running, but about five years ago, he found his way back to the sport he had loved early in life. Matt realized that he had been missing the benefits of his regular running routine. He says, “Exercise helps me to stay positive and remain healthy on a day-to-day basis. I like to surround myself with the great people in the running community.”
Running has helped Matt to cope with many of the problems that life has thrown his way. When he and his wife made the painful decision to divorce, running helped him to make it through the heartbreak with his sanity intact. “My kids, 18-year-old Tyler and 15-year-old Lauren, both think running long distances is a little crazy, but they know how much I love it. It is my addiction. It makes me happy and it got me through my divorce. I handled it better than I would have if I had not been running.”
As Matt became more serious about his training, he started setting goals for himself. One of the first goals that Matt set was to run a marathon before he turned 40. He set his sights on the Lincoln Marathon in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the build-up to his first marathon, Matt raced four half-marathons. By the time he toed the line in Lincoln, he was fit and strong. Matt finished his first marathon in 3:48:58. The Lincoln Marathon takes place in May of each year, and Matt turned 40 in August of 2013. He accomplished all of the goals that he had set for himself with his first race and was eager to set his sights on new challenges.
In September of 2014, Matt was introduced to trail running. He went for a 3 mile loop with a friend and immediately fell in love with the challenge, serenity and beauty of trail running. Matt started looking for a trail marathon to run right away. He became involved with the local Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners (G.O.A.T.z) club, which is known for putting together top-notch trail and ultra marathon events. Matt entered and completely the G.O.A.T.Z 50k (31 miles) in October 2014.
Matt fell in love with the ultra marathon community and with the racing experience. He quickly set his sights on running a 100 mile race. Matt lined up to run the Indiana Trail 100 in April 2015. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with the runners that weekend. It rained all day and night, making the trail incredibly muddy and wet. Early into the race, Matt slipped and hurt his quadriceps muscle. Ultimately, he decided to drop out of the race so that he would be healthy enough to run shortly thereafter.
Matt did not allow this temporary set-back to discourage him. After recovering for a couple of weeks, he decided to try again. Matt recently fulfilled his dream of completing a 100 mile race. On August 22, 2015, Matt placed sixth in the Lean Horse 100, finishing in 21 hours and 12 minutes.
Matt has been a long-time member of Lifetime Fitness in Omaha, NE. When he got back into running as an adult, he often ran with the gym’s running club. He worked at the club for a period of time in a sales position and then was asked to take over as Run Coordinator. “We do 5k, 10k and half-marathon training programs. I love teaching people how to run,” Matt explains.
Through his involvement in the running club, Matt met local runner Elli Zadina. Elli lost her mother to pancreatic cancer, and now her father is battling the very same disease.”I believe God has a reason for everything he does, but cannot wrap my head around this,” Matt says. Because of her experiences with pancreatic cancer, Elli has become a passionate advocate for Project Purple. Though Matt had not known anyone previously who had been directly affected by pancreatic cancer, he started attending some of Elli’s Project Purple team runs for the Lincoln Marathon. Listening to the stories of those who had lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer had a profound effect on Matt. “I have never run for a charity before, but I love to run and I love to help people. I can put those passions together by running for Project Purple.” Matt continues, “When Elli informed me about her dad, I wanted to do more. We planned a run at Lifetime for Gary. Then Elli gave me some Project Purple shoe laces and those suckers went the entire 100 miles or Lean Horse with me and will continue to be with me forever.”
Inspired by Elli and the other Project Purple runners, Matt signed on to run the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon with the Project Purple team in October. Though Matt still has a long-term goal of running a Boston Marathon Qualifying time, for the time being, his goals are very different. Matt is looking forward to running a race with the intent of helping others. Please make a tax-deductible donation to Matt’s Project Purple Crowdrise fundraising page to help him as he runs to beat pancreatic cancer.