In federal prison, Jeffrey Miller ran to mentally escape from his confinement.
After his release in March, the 41-year-old incarcerated himself again, in a prison of his own making: a pledge to run a marathon every day for 365 days.
The con man from La Crosse, Wisconsin, said he released himself from those self-created bonds after 100 days, cutting short his sentence and focusing instead on rehabilitating a sense of normalcy and a commitment to his family.
"It was tough," Miller said of his 100-day streak. "I was gone for six years, and then I was out running on the street for six hours every day. I wasn't there. Not only the time I was running, but when I wasn't running, I was tired. I wasn't able to do anything with the kids and that was frustrating."
In abandoning his oversized effort, Miller has given himself only a partial respite.
The married father of four still owes nearly $3.5 million in restitution to investors he defrauded when a business venture went bad and he failed to make good on the promissory notes he wrote. His father and numerous other family members were among the victims, people whose retirement savings were lost to Miller and their misplaced trust.
The restitution is part of Miller's sentence on the mail fraud charges to which he pleaded guilty in 2005. He was sentenced to 87 months of incarceration and served six years of that sentence in the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth, Minnesota, where he started to run on a short outdoor track, 81 laps to a marathon.
He estimates that he logged 5,000 miles on that track.
"It gave me a goal," he said. "That's the one thing I could do that I knew I would be doing if I was on the street. It was just as much mental as it was physical in terms of the benefit.
"You get that benefit of a runner's high. You could get in that zone, live fully in the now, live fully in the moment."
While running those miles, he conceived the idea of the year-long marathon streak, something he believes no one in the world has ever done, a wildly ambitious goal.
He launched the 365 marathon effort on March 15, hoping that it would draw attention and publicity to his book, UltraMarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, and provide the means to repay what he owes. Similar to his initial scheme, it proved to be a promise he couldn't cover.
"I would never be able to pay the restitution on an hourly job, or selling aerial photography," he said. "I had to do something big, not to mention it's something I believed in, inspiring other people. That's what kept me going through the 100 days, the feedback.
"After spending six years in prison, the running wasn't the obstacle. Compared to where I had been, that was paradise. The fact was, I was doing that in an attempt to get some media exposure and nobody gave a ...."
"The media didn't pick it up at all. If nobody knows what you're doing, what's the point of doing it? To me, that's just plain stupid. It's not healthy."
On June 22, defeated mentally and physically, his feet painfully sore from the daily pounding, Miller gave up.
He takes some pride in his accomplishment, having completed 26.2 miles every day for 100 days. The streak surpassed that of Dean Karnazes, who ran 50 marathons in 50 days, and served as inspiration for Miller through his book.
"It was a priceless experience," he said. "I didn't just sit on my ass. I made use of my time.
"The moral of the story was not giving up, trying to do the right thing. I felt a responsibility. Those were the people I was running for: the people I owed money to and my family."
Tom Held, a freelance writer and blogger at TheActivePursuit.com, lives in Milwaukee.
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