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:
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…
"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?
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.
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:
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.
Aaron did all the work to make it through rehab.
"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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
"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."
It's the kind of thing that builds confidence, fills you with hope, and pushes you forward.
"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.
Longest distance I've ran
Toughest race I've ran
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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!
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