I met Phil after my first attempt at the Many on the Genny, the most beautiful 40 mile race on the east coast. The only thing I knew about him was that as he got more tired and the race went on, his tri-top would keep getting unzipped. You knew you had a chance if you caught Phil with 5k to go that the shirt would be flapping open. We raced with each other frequently enough where I would see his smiling face cheering me into the finishing shoot, I quickly learned just how good Phil was. He has won or ran into the top three at most of the races in Upstate New York including the aforementioned Many on the Genny, Sehgahunda, Webster Trail Classic and Twisted Branch. I was lucky enough to help Phil train for Twisted Branch in 2021, a race I DNFed at mile 1, but he went on to win in 12:02. I will remember one specific training run for the rest of my life. It was pouring rain and Phil decided to run in a pair of USA themed Brooks Ghosts, which was probably the worst choice of shoe for the conditions. However, as the rain got worse, Phil was still a cheerful companion, and I got to learn everything about him. He was a nerd before the summer he turned hot. He makes his own pickles (they are DELICIOUS!). He had a way of asking questions that allowed me to explain myself without feeling like I needed to. We ran for 5 hours and yet it felt like I spent the day at a waterpark with a new friend who had cool Pokemon cards and wanted to give me the Charizard. Phil has run into and out of my life exactly when I need him most and his talent for both making me feel loved and happy to be alive. As you’ll learn, he dealt with a devastating injury that I could not imagine, but kept smiling, kept trying, and inched his way back to running. There are people who find us when we need them, or they need us. I hope everyone reading this finds their Phil, and holds onto them, because it’s people like him who make the future worth fighting for.
Find Phil at UltraSignUp
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Phil Nesbitt. For work I’m a NYS Park Police Sergeant. The way I describe it is that we are similar to State Troopers and also Encon Police. We have the same authority as Troopers but are concentrated in and around NYS Parks and Historic sites. We help the public, we make arrests, issue tickets, enforce the laws of NYS, but also get to utilize boats/ATVs/snowmobiles/bikes – additionally in my zone we handle High Angle Rope Rescue and Swiftwater Rescues. Letchworth in particular can be a dangerous and challenging environment. It’s an awesome career path for anyone who is motivated, interested in the outdoors, and wants to make a difference in their communities.
But “what I do” is try to make the most of each day by hopefully being a good father, husband, and human. I’ve been fortunate to have had so many experiences that helped shape me. I’m constantly trying to better myself by learning from those around me who are making a difference every day. I have a long way to go but each step is one step further along this journey.
Do any of your group chats have names? If so, what are you willing to share?
For those that know me, I’m pretty absent on social media and group threads in general. I do have a few text group chats however, one of which is the South of the Thruway Runners. It’s a Sunday run group organized by the legendary Dave Coyne. There are so many fantastic people, that also happen to be very accomplished runners, in this group.
If you could change one thing about your favorite social media platform, what would it be?
For fear of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I’ll abstain from going into much detail on the topic. I will say that social media doesn’t offer a ton of value for me personally but I completely understand the benefit others derive from it. If it works for you, I’m in no position to question that. If I could change anything about it, it would be the perfectly curated image some try to project on it. It’s unsustainable and unrealistic to only see everyone constantly at their best. We all face our challenges and it is ok to show vulnerability, it’s part of what makes us human. I also fear that it’s led to an erosion in some people’s ability to concentrate or appreciate the world for what it is, leaving us increasingly less satisfied. The most amazing technological advancements pale in comparison to even something as seemingly simplistic as the changing seasons. We need to be more grateful for and cognizant of the natural world around us.
What is a book of fiction that you really enjoyed, for no other reason than you liked it?
These questions are making me realize I’m way lamer than even I knew. I recently read the Harry Potter series with my oldest daughter. It’s awesome to see how the mind of an 8-year-old processes the world. Their imagination is enviable. She got really into it, we have robes, wands, and everything. I’m not saying it’s true but we may or may not go around the house casting spells. I’m just a muggle.
What is one song you’ve been listening to on repeat recently?
Don’t read too much into this response but I recently heard Rich Men North of Richmond for the first time. It’s catchy but it’s also pretty emotionally charged. I think, regardless of your world views or background, we can all agree that we need to do better as a country. We need to be there and help each other. To ensure our continued existence, we have to do more than we have and be more selfless.
What is one trend that started in 2020 that you love?
A reduction in vehicular travel/traffic. For the first time in a long time, people were able to slow down and really enjoy being outside. It was a much-needed break. Many used the opportunity to focus on what’s important, like family. We switched off our rampant consumerism briefly and lived for the moment. It seems to have waned.
What is one trend that started in 2020 that you hate?
I thrive on personal relationships. Having to forgo hugs and handshakes seemed cold. I’m a communal person so not having in-person events like races was really unfulfilling. Virtual engagements just didn’t cut it. I’m glad I got back to a sense of normalcy.
What are the last three emojis you used?
Trust me, you don’t want an answer to this. I have the humor of a teenager and my wife constantly reminds me that my juvenile antics aren’t entertaining to anyone who considers themselves an adult. With context, my jokes are only moderately funny. Without context, I look like an arse.
What is the last thing you bought online?
The answer is usually bike parts (chain, cassette, tires). I think that’s pretty accurate too. I really enjoy biking but it’s far higher maintenance than running. I love the simplicity of running for this reason. I used to use Amazon quite often but in recent years I’ve been trying extra hard to patronize the smaller and in particular more local businesses. Amazon isn’t my favorite company, I’ll leave it at that.
What is your most controversial food opinion?
My wife is reminding me that I refuse to believe my “healthy” diet is directly responsible for my frequent flatulence. In a house full of ladies, I’m offensive to both their sensibilities and their sense of smell. It’s my albatross.
What three videos are at the top of your YouTube recommended homepage?
For anyone familiar with cycling:
Tom Pidcock descending on the Tour de France stage to Alpe D’huez. If you respect good bike handling, watch it.
Wout Van Aert on stage 4 of the 2022 Tour de France
Something with a Cricut Maker. It’s a craft thing for the Mrs…. we share one computer in the house.
Which Allie is your favorite?
Well, my sister-in-law’s name is Allison so if I don’t pick that, there will be hell to pay at Thanksgiving dinner.
What argument in mass media do you not understand or think is a worthless issue?
I don’t really understand the arguments against climate change. Even if humans aren’t a big contributing factor (big if), I don’t see a lot of downsides to reducing our exponential consumption of finite resources. Do we all need vehicles getting only 15 miles per gallon, in 2023? There are some who properly utilize these tools well but plenty who don’t. “Because we can”, is not a valid argument for having a $70k luxury lifted diesel pickup that will never have a speck of dirt in the bed. We treat the ability to consume as a right, not a privilege. Being inconvenienced seems trivial when the potential cost of doing nothing is the inability to inhabit this planet in coming generations. I do think some of the “green” interventions aren’t as much of a net benefit as advertised, keep in mind there are still corporations and profit to be had so of course there’s an economic incentive. We can balance environmental impact with economic costs (i.e. pricing in externalities of wasteful/polluting sources and bringing more reasonable options to price parity).
When you go home for the holidays, what is the food or tradition that it wouldn’t be the holidays without?
Baba Ghanoush, pickles, and olive tapenade. Salt is definitely my favorite food group. I love the family time at Thanksgiving.
When I say in-seam you say…?
Umm… out-seam? I knew I wasn’t cool before we started this article, but this is really driving the point home.
What was your worst running fuel decision? What was the surprising best?
Worst was at the 2011 Can Lake 50 miler: lukewarm turkey broth I had in the flask of my running belt. It literally tasted like urine, or what I’m assuming urine tastes like. The best is a tie
1. These gummy ginger chews from Trader Joe’s. Anytime I’m doing an ultra and my stomach turns sour, these quickly bring me back and allow me to keep fueling
2. During the 2020 Mighty Mosquito 100 mile, my friend Mitch Ball was pacing with me. Before he came out, mid-race, he asked what he could bring and I had a craving for “real” food so I had him bring oranges, berries, 2 cans of soup, and a jar of pickles. This was clutch. It was waiting at my aid station each lap. It was a nice change to get a break from the ultra concentrated fuels that are usually sufficient.
What is your death row meal?
Pickles. The good ones I make myself. If I’m dying, I’m not reaching for the typical grocery store jar. What did I do to warrant the death penalty though? Maybe life in prison without parole. I vote for ROR.
Out and back or looped course?
Out and back. Looped courses, while logistically nice, are mentally depleting. If you feel like human garbage during a race and have to see your car as you run by every few hours, it’s not doing much to keep me motivated. Plus, once I’ve seen the course, I don’t need to keep seeing it. My terrible memory is helpful in this regard though. I’ve run Sehgahunda ~10x but I still miss turns and second guess my navigation.
Barkley or 24H track race?
Barkley. It would destroy me but I respect the hell out of it and would love the chance to complete the fun run. Track racing is the running equivalent of waterboarding.
When I say PTRA you say?
When I google PTRA, it shows as the ticker symbol for an EV and vehicle powertrain company. While I have a degree in Economics and really enjoy finance/investing, I’m guessing that’s not what I’m here to talk about. While we’re on the topic though, I did buy TSLA at ~$110 earlier this year, on a dip, and sold half my position at $213. Holding the rest for $300. Felt like a genius but I was just lucky. When you can get a growth company like TSLA for a P/E similar to the avg. for S&P 500, you have to pull the trigger. GARP!!! PEG <1 = buy! I used to be a TSLA bear but with what Elon has proven, I’m not willing to bet against him anymore. Neruallink is dangerous though, and AI will be our undoing. But hey, let me crawl back into my cave.
When I say UTMB you say?
Umbrellas treat me best. Yes they do.
What is one thing that absolutely scares you? Why?
One means 3 right?
Not being a good dad. I can live with failure but failing my kids is not an option.
Not giving my best effort and having deathbed regrets of what more I should’ve done (seen more, spent more time with family, slowed down to enjoy life, etc…). I find myself working and pushing too hard at times because of this fear. It’s a fine line between giving 100% and pushing yourself to injury or self-destruction.
Forgetting. I struggle mightily to recall, even recent memories. It’s gotten worse. I find myself taking obnoxious amounts of pictures, not because I’m going to put them on the gram but because this may be the only thing that sparks that memory that will otherwise slip from my grasp. When I see people that I should know but don’t, or when my kids remind me of something amazing we did but I haven’t the faintest recollection, it makes me sad in a way I can’t describe.
What is a time you felt you didn’t measure up? How did you get through that?
This is an interesting question. I have a significant internal pressure to excel.
Caveat to the story below – I know people deal with true trauma and terminal illness, what I’ve dealt with is nothing in comparison. Please don’t view my situation as such, there are people really suffering in this world and I’m not one.
The most prominent example I have of this is approx. two years ago. Long story short, I hurt my back/spine pretty severely while doing a recovery mission in Letchworth Gorge. I significantly ruptured one disc, fissure in one, and severely herniation in one other. The rupture caused the disc material to leak out and push into all sorts of nerves in my lower lumbar. Started with numbness, then loss of use, eventually peaked with complete spasms accompanied by significant atrophy. My foot would drag along at times, making running feel like an impossibility. I spent months only being able to lay or stand for short periods – I couldn’t sit even for a moment (still avoid it at all costs to this day). I’ve had pain in my 37 years but this was a whole new experience, like being tased (I know the feeling) but randomly and without warning, for minutes or hours at a time. It would crumple me onto the floor like a pile of clothes. It was physically and emotionally draining every bit of me. The part I didn’t measure up to was being a good dad or husband. As you can imagine my ability to contribute to the family was diminished. I would try to clean dishes while leaning all my weight against the sink for support. Every time I stood straight it was like I was filling a cup in my leg, I could feel a pressure in my back and a painful burning like sensation would start low in the leg and work its way up. When the “cup” was full, it meant I couldn’t stand for even a moment longer. It was absolutely crushing when I had to look at my beautiful little girls and tell them I couldn’t pick them up, or give them a proper hug, or play, because all I could do was army-crawl around the house. I adapted and learned to eat my dinner on the floor laying down just so I could be close to the table and feel like part of the family. We took the seats out of my van and laid plywood down so I could have my parents drive me to the five appointments a week I was going to for months on end. It was frustrating, humiliating, and for the first time in a long time I had to ask for help. There’s far more to this story but I won’t bore you with those details. I got through this by setting small attainable yet challenging goals. At first it was to be able to walk the 100 feet of the driveway to put my daughter on the bus each morning. I would wait for the bus to leave so I wouldn’t embarrass my kid. Then I would lay face down in the snowy grass, behind a car so as to not alarm the neighbors, until I could get enough capacity to make it back up the driveway. From there I was on my treadmill every single day, multiple times, increasing my distance/speed/incline (bike racing videos kept me going). The 0.1mile turned into 0.25, then 1, then 3. Eventually I was able to start riding my bike again. I took my mountain bike and lowered the seat all the way down so I could stand over the frame without hitting the saddle. I would ride myself to my daily PT appointments, in December, standing up the whole time. I must have looked crazy in my winter coat and hat, doing 30 minute to 1 hour rides around the neighborhood, never once sitting on the bike. It made me happy, gave me hope, and motivated me. There were times when I’d be riding and would just have an icy tear of joy, literally, roll down my cheek and onto my top tube. I felt like myself and could see the progression. I spent a lot of time on the elliptical so I could get intensity without risk of injury.
There’s also races I haven’t “measured up” but I will say that no matter how those performances went I was and will always be grateful to toe the line. It’s a privilege and honor to be part of this community. I don’t care if I’m first or last. Being out there, sharing these experiences and challenges with everyone, that’s why I do it. That said I was disappointed a bit this July at Many on the Genny. I knew Nate Couse would be very challenging and he has ultra-endurance so I tried to deploy some speed early to try and soften his legs. I led from mile 7 until the mid 30’s. He ran smart, ran his own race. When he caught me, he was clearly the better runner. He deserved the “W” and there’s nothing I could’ve done to change that. I ended up 4th. It was hard watching the podium slip away mile by mile but I knew that each runner ahead, and each behind, was amazing for getting through the day. There is no shame in “losing” when you’ve left it all on the line. You get through it by remembering why we run, why we fight, why we live. Sometimes the pain is the reward. Sounds corny but it’s true. The day will come, hopefully not soon, where I have to step back from the sport. For now, I’ll be doing my best at each race.
Who is another runner that flies under the radar that we should all get to know?
There are plenty of elite runners in and out of the scene here and I respect that but I look more for the personality behind the runner. I run with a friend in the South of the Thruway group, Justin Duchnick. He’s gotten into running and improved immensely in the past couple years. He quickly became a sub-17 5k guy, and ran 1:17 in the half marathon, within only a couple seasons. He has a ton of drive, dedication, and raw talent. Thankfully he doesn’t run trail races yet but when that changes, so will my standings in UltraSignup. He’s a genuinely great person and I respect the hell out of him. He held me in high regard for some reason, so I do have to question his judgment.