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Justin Levine Goes the Distance to Benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation

Dec 22, 2015 09:45PM ● By Brandi Barnett

Pushing the Limits

January 2016
By Jordan Venema

Justin Levine, 36, has always been one to push limits, but even he admits the decision to run from Visalia to Santa Monica was a bit extreme. “I was a little bit naïve,” he laughs. “I wasn’t really thinking about the actual run until the night before.”
The owner of Visalia’s California Fitness Academy is no stranger to running long distances, but even for this seasoned triathlete – Levine has been running triathlons “about 10 years now” – 300 miles was a stretch. “It was a project of sorts to prove to people” – even to himself – “that anything is possible,” says Levine.
The 300-mile run almost began as a joke, a hypothetical “what if” between Levine and his brother. But like all jogs that turn into sprints, the “what if” soon picked up traction and speed. In 2012, Levine began training for the race of a lifetime. His brother, a film producer, agreed to film a documentary of Levine’s run. They even raised $15,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation.
The actual run began in Visalia on a morning in October 2012, where Levine was joined by about 40 other runners. “My favorite one-mile run that I’ve ever been a part of,” describes Levin. “It was electric.”
That first mile, joined by friends, family and supporters, set the tone for Levine’s ultra-marathon. “It was a team event,” he says. “You can’t go after your goals by yourself.” Even when you’re only racing against yourself, says Levine, you need that support.
Levine ran through Farmersville and Porterville, finishing his first day in Oildale. During his training, Levine’s longest single run was 45 miles; this day he ran 67.

The next day took him through Bakersfield to Tehachapi. “That day was 60 miles,” Levine says coolly, “but physically I was reaching my limits already.”
Within minutes of an introduction, his cheerful voice and friendly mien peg Levine as a positive person. He calls himself an “upbeat guy.” But he admits, “waking up on day three was a little bit depressing. I was just kind of somber.” He had run 127 miles in two days, and wasn’t even yet to the halfway point; his body was being physically pushed in ways it had never been pushed before. “But once I started moving,” he says, “life just got better.” Not just the run, but life. “It’s a metaphor that I continue to keep using,” says Levine, that in life, sometimes all you can do is put one foot in front of the other.
On the third day, Levine entered the Mojave. Even in October, Levine ran through what he describes as brutally hot weather. By afternoon, he reached the Angeles National Forest, and after 68 miles, around 11pm, Levine, his pace runners and caravan camped for the night.
The fourth day, “I felt down and dejected. I had 106 miles to go,” says Levine. “Sleeping never was easy after these long days. Tossing and turning like you had the flu.” But he made it his morning ritual to wake, say a good prayer and start the day off right. And again: one foot in front of the other.
On the fourth day, Levine arrived in Glendale, and on the same evening he and his crew decided Levin would continue running throughout the night. He describes that last stretch along the California Highway 1 as a trance state, a period of euphoria and exhaustion, where adrenaline was kicking in, but also combatting sleep deprivation, mental and physical fatigue. “It was an ambush of emotions,” he recalls.
He had taken a 45-minute nap at 2am, but even after resting, he felt frozen in place. His brother encouraged him: “You only have a marathon to go,” which only to a man at the end of a 300-mile run could that have been an encouragement. It was a defining moment for Levine, he says, when “running at that point was just moving forward, shuffling my feet.”
For the final 13 miles, friends and Visalia natives joined Levine for a “half marathon” to the finish line. “Six miles to go and I probably hit my deepest wall in the entire trip,” says Levine. “I just had to sit down and be quiet, and sit there and allow all the thoughts and emotions – that this epic adventure is going to be completed.”
And without any overstatements, fireworks or fanfare, Levine crossed his threshold and, “in my best Forrest Gump impression, said, ‘I think I’m good.’” And while he was probably happy to have the 300 miles behind him, the celebration was “one of those moments you never want to end.”
The race may have ended, but Levine took away an experience that permanently changed him. Gaining the experience and knowledge that he could overcome his own limitations would even prepare him when he and his wife, just three months later, went through a late-pregnancy miscarriage. “That was one of the biggest things we faced as a family,” Levine says, “but everything I learned in this run, those four days, really helped through the tragedy.”
Perhaps the biggest question put to Levine, and often, is why? Why 300 miles? “Sometimes I ask myself the same question,” he says. Perhaps, he ponders, he wanted to imagine he hardest thing he could do. “This was my own individual barrier for sure… and I wanted to challenge my own self to prove to others that anything is possible.”
Levine has taken those experiences and put them in a book, “Limitless,” which he expects to be published sometime early next year. He wrote the book himself, which, he concedes, was a different kind of marathon. But as it required a team to help him get through his 300 miles, so too he hopes his book can provide support for others – “to inspire others to push past their limits.”
And doing so, perhaps his readers can learn what Levine surely has, that crossing the finish line is never really an ending, but another beginning, and the start of a new challenges with unlimited possibilities.  •