Build Confidence: This Badass Runner Will Inspire You to Rise

What’s it take to build confidence and become a better runner?

You could say Aaron Clineman got an early start on this. 

But not in the conventional way like:

  • Team sports
  • Cross country
  • Fun runs, or...
  • Working with a coach

Instead, his training ground to build confidence started on day one…born to parents addicted to drugs and alcohol.

His one goal: SURVIVE.

It hasn’t been an easy journey. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning.

But when he finally discovered running, he found a way to rise up and keep going.

And he’s on a mission to show you how…

Aaron Clineman learned to overcome some big challenges at an early age. The journey helped him build confidence and led him to running, strength training, and setting big goals.

The unconventional path to build confidence

"I grew up in an environment where I felt like no one believed in me," says Aaron Clineman. "I didn't even believe in myself."

He spent the first six years of his life in chaos with parents addicted to drugs and alcohol.

By the time he got to kindergarten, he was already convinced he was worthless.

"I remember walking in to class on the first day of school," says Aaron. "I looked around and thought, "They all think I'm ugly and stupid. Why would anyone want to be friends with me."

Ever hear that kind of negative-self talk when you think about running?

You know...

  • I'm not good enough
  • I'm not fast enough
  • They're all better runners than me
  • I'm slow
  • I'm weak
  • I'll never be able to run...
There was a time when Aaron Clineman (back, right) felt completely alone. Getting sober and discovering running changed everything...

From addict to ultrarunner

He didn't really know it at the time, but what he wanted more than anything was to be accepted, to be good at something — anything, to build confidence. 

For a long time, Aaron tried to find this by escaping into a virtual world. 

"I started playing RuneScape in the fifth grade," says Aaron. 

"It's a multi-player online role-playing game. You make your own character, and you can do anything you want."

He became obsessed with gaming.

  • Over a five-year period, he played RuneScape for about 8,800 hours (that's 370 days).
  • In this virtual world, he started to build confidence and gain acceptance from other gamers.
  • He kept playing more and more, because it felt good. And it helped keep his mind off problems at home.
  • He became so good at gaming, he got paid to play Call of Duty 4.

But deep down, he wasn't happy.
His home life was toxic.
And every day he was looking for an escape.

And then, one day...

"I skipped school to play video games," says Aaron.

"And there's this knock at the door. My whole family is standing there, and they deliver the news: 'Your mom is dead. She killed herself driving into a tree.'"

From one obsession to another

"I just withdrew completely," says Aaron. "I thought I was defective. And I felt horrible that my mom felt so alone, she thought taking her life was the only way out."

Aaron didn't want to be alone. 

So he started hanging out with a new group of friends and got really good at:

  • Drinking alcohol. "When I was intoxicated, it was easier to talk to people and be me," says Aaron.
  • Using drugs. First prescription pain killers. Eventually, he was shooting heroin and selling drugs.

He went to rehab...multiple times. 

But he kept coming back to drugs and alcohol to "feel" better, find acceptance, and push away those feelings of complete isolation and desperation.

"The last time I went to rehab, I decided I was going to do everything they told me to," says Aaron. "And if it didn't work, I just didn't want to be here anymore."

But that tiny step forward, with a kind of macabre ultimatum, made all the difference.

When Aaron Clineman heard David Goggins talk about running and pain on the Team Never Quit Podcast, he signed up for a marathon the same day.

Train like David Goggins

Aaron did all the work to make it through rehab. 

  • Breaking his cycle of addiction was the first part.
  • Next came changing his habits and mindset.

"At 20 years old, my only goal was to grow up and not want to kill myself," says Aaron. "I really suffered from low self esteem and didn't like the way I looked."

He started lifting weights, spending 2-3 hours in the gym per day. He was building a better body, and building confidence.

"I started stripping away all the stuff that had happened and finding out who I was," says Aaron.
"I realized that if you make it through the kind of stuff I did, you're going to build resilience."

He realized, no matter your circumstances, you always have a choice.

"Instead of making me callused to the world, all my experiences made me sensitive," says Aaron.

"I know what it's like to be left to die on the side of the road, and forced to figure out how to survive."

The epiphany prepared him perfectly for David Goggins...

Back in 2017, David Goggins wasn't a familiar name and his grueling 4x4x48 challenge was new:

  • Run 4 miles
  • Every 4 hours
  • For 48 hours

Aaron heard David Goggins talk about training, conditioning, and running to complete failure and beyond in an interview on the Team Never Quit Podcast, and something happened...

"What he was saying resonated so much with me," says Aaron. 

"When David Goggins finished the hardest 24-hour race of his life, he had multiple stress fractures. His feet were broken. And even though he needed to go to the hospital, he sat in a chair first and said, 'I earned this. I want to feel every bit of this pain."

The same day, Aaron signed up for a 26.2-mile marathon, with no experience running longer than 6 miles.

First marathon: Aaron Clineman finished second overall at the Rock 'N the Knob Trail Marathon in Pennsylvania.

Run your first marathon

Ever heard of the Marathon on the Mountain?

It's a race in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania that starts at the Seven Springs Resort.

That's where Aaron ran his first marathon.

And it wasn't pretty. 

  • He wore CrossFit shoes. 
  • He ate all the wrong things. 
  • A gut bomb nearly cost him the race.

But he wanted to tap into that feeling David Goggins talked about.

So he kept going, even though it took him five and a half hours to finish.

But that was just the beginning. 

He ran more races. He endured more pain and suffering. Every race provided a little bit of feedback to get better, build confidence, and keep going. 

The never-ending search for the runner's high

Ever heard of the Rock N the Knob Trail Challenge?

It's Pennsylvania's hardest trail marathon hosted by the Allegheny Trail Runners.

And after a year of running and a marathon under his belt, Aaron thought this looked like a good challenge.

"I started training for the Rock N the Knob, but I had no idea what I was doing," says Aaron.

  • He started running a ton of miles.
  • His strategy: Run hard and fast.
  • He spent more time lifting weights.
  • Two grueling workouts a day was a regular thing.

On your mark...Get set...GO!

On race day, he stepped up to the starting line still new to the marathon distance and novice trail runner.

"I was there to run my own race," says Aaron. "I had no other aspirations other than to finish."

He headed out with the front runners from the Clubhouse at Blue Knob Four Seasons Resort at the start of the race.

And he managed to keep up. By mile 20, he was still in fifth place.

And then, he realized...

"There were only four people in front of me," says Aaron. 

"David Goggins voice came into my head: 'Let's fucking get it. Take their souls. It's time to go as hard as you can.'"

In that moment, Aaron was reminded of his personal struggles and how far he'd already come trying to beat his demons.

This was one more opportunity to build confidence.

  • He hammered his way through the next six miles.
  • He felt the physical pain and fatigue of trying to push his limits.
  • He battled the urge to quit, give up and slow down.

And by the time he crossed the finish line, he was in second place.

"Maybe this is something I can do," Aaron thought. "Maybe this is something I'm naturally good at. I think I'm going to see how far I can go."

Race cancelled? No problem. Aaron Clineman ran the self-supported Rachel Carson Double during the pandemic, covering about 90 miles in under 20 hours.

'I don't do well if I don't have a goal'

After the Rock 'N the Knob Trail Marathon, Aaron was feeling pretty good...for a while.

It's a lot like a drug addict getting high, he says.

There's a short period of time where you feel really good, and then you want more.

But instead of turning to drugs and alcohol this time, he started looking for harder races and bigger challenges.

"I don't do well if I don't have a goal," says Aaron.

He ran the:

And then the pandemic hit. 

Races were cancelled, and he was left without a way to get high.

The Rachel Carson Trail is in Allegheny County near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The solution: Run the Rachel Carson Double

"I started thinking, no one has ever ran the Rachel Carson Trail out and back that I know of," says Aaron.

The Rachel Carson Challenge is a 35-mile trail race in Pennsylvania east of Pittsburg. But the actual trail is about 46 miles long.

"My goal was to run the entire trail from the eastern terminus to the western terminus," says Aaron.

Hi Facebook: I'm gonna do this thing.

When Aaron decided to run the Rachel Carson out-and-back, he decided to put it out there on social media.

"I wasn't real active on social media when I decided to do this," says Aaron.

"But I reached out to the North Park Trail Runners, just to say I'll be out there and anyone can join me."

He never expected that...

"The community blew up with support," says Aaron. "For the first time, I felt this overwhelming feeling of support that people care."

"That really kind of blew my mind," says Aaron. "I spoke this thing into existence and the universe aligned to support my mission."

  • Complete strangers showed up to run some miles with him.
  • Members of the running club helped him with aid stations.
  • People told him his attitude ang big goal to run the Rachel Carson Double was inspiring.

It's the kind of thing that builds confidence, fills you with hope, and pushes you forward.

  • Going the distance was hard. 
  • His stomach rebelled against food as he ticked off the miles.
  • But he ended up running 90+ miles in under 20 hours.

"The kind of support I received when I ran the Rachel Carson Double, was so incredible," says Aaron. 

"I can literally remember thinking, 'I feel so good, 'I don't want to kill myself.' Instead of hiding under a rock, I have the potential to inspire other people like me to become the best version of themselves."

And that's exactly what he's doing.

Fun facts about Aaron Clineman.

Fun facts about Aaron Clineman

Owner of: 

Longest distance I've ran

  • 92 miles during the out-and-back Rachel Carson Double. But soon the Cloudsplitter 100 on Oct. 15-16 will be his longest run to day. And he's got his sights set on running a 200-mile race.

Toughest race I've ran

  • Black Forest 100K. "There's about 14,000 feet of climbing, and the course shares a lot of the Eastern States 100 course. There's a lot of rocks and roots, and not a lot of smooth sections, so it's hard to find a flow."

Favorite running shoe

  • Xero Barefoot Running Shoes. "Barefoot shoes give me a lot more sensory perception. What I lose in the comfort of a cushioned running shoe I make up for in feeling. If you're thinking about switching to a zero-drop shoe, it's a transition. Start slow and allow yourself to build up strength."

Race fuel strategy

  • Maple syrup, gels, white rice, and bone marrow broth. 
  • "You really have to train your stomach just like you're training your body. You can't expect to walk into the gym and squat 500 pounds, if you haven't been practicing. And your stomach responds in the same way. Once your digestive system refuses to take calories, you're in trouble. It's one of the biggest hinderance to running ultras for most people."

Set goals

  • "Set big goals for yourself, and go after them like your life depends on it. Write it down. Tell everyone you know. Really take time to understand what your goal means and how you're going to make it happen. A lot of people can sit on the couch and say climbing Mount Everest looks like fun, but the execution to get there takes a lot of work." 

Inspire others

  • "I like to train hard, but I really don't give a shit about winning races. I'm more interested in trying to be the best version of myself to inspire other people. When you decide to bring your light to the world, you can help a lot of people who are suffering. And that's pretty cool."
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Evan Jensen
SANDY, Oregon
2 Following

I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...


David Moore Amazing story Aaron! Thanks for sharing with us. Keep on with what you’re doing!!

Brynn Cunningham Wow, Aaron, what a beautiful story. I teared up a bit reading it. You’re living an amazing life. Keep it up. Much love from a fellow Pennsylvanian trail runner!

Brynn Cunningham

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