“If someone else can identify with where I’ve been, and what I’ve gone through, and that helps them, so be it.”
It was mid-July, 2014 on the eve of Matt Klein’s first Vermont 100 mile race, and he found himself in tears. He had come a long way since his darkest days nearly a decade earlier. In less than twelve hours, he would be toeing the line, alongside more than three hundred fellow runners. He had worked so hard, for the opportunity to be there. At that moment, sitting under the massive tent at Silver Hill Meadow, he was overcome with emotion, but not for himself. He had been so moved by the guest speaker that evening, Molly Keating and her daughter, Julia. Molly spoke that evening, expressing her deep gratitude for the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport program that the race benefitted, and the difference it had made in her daughter’s life. Vermont Adaptive is a program that empowers people of all abilities through inclusive sports and recreational programming. Prior to that day, Matt had no knowledge of the program, and was there to run a race, to test his limits. “That first race was for me, after that, I tried to make it for something else, something bigger than me.” Matt went on to finish his first Vermont 100 that weekend, and has come back every year since, achieving his 500 mile buckle in 2018. If I could pick one word to describe Matt, it would be: humble. Over the next four years, he has become the leading fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive at the Vermont 100. By himself, he has raised nearly $65,000 for the cause. It’s worth noting that Matt didn’t give me this information, I had to go look it up. Like I said, he’s a humble guy.
Matt’s mom was a school teacher, and his father worked in a warehouse. “They grounded us and provided us with everything.” He beams with pride, speaking about his father whom he calls his best friend. Matt swam competitively throughout school, and had no interest in running. After high school, he was off to the University of Rhode Island. College introduced him to a higher education, as well as a world of partying. After graduation, he moved to Manhattan, where his struggle with addiction really set in over the next decade. During this time, he married his wife, Nicole, whom he had originally met and dated back in high school. He wore a suit and tie to work, had a wonderful wife and appeared to be living the perfect life. But inside, he was suffering, and wasn’t sure how to ask for help.
In 2004, Matt’s sister-in-law ran the New York City marathon. He recalls being impressed with her training leading up to the event, and watching her journey through the streets that day. He was also struck by the many different body types of races in the event. It was here, that a seed was planted in his head, as he marveled in her achievement. He made a pact with himself that day. “I told myself, if I sign up for the New York City Marathon, I would stop using drugs, including alcohol.” Matt’s low point came in 2006, and with the support of his family, he went into treatment to get the help he needed.
While he was getting clean that summer, something else incredible happened. Against all odds, he got picked in the NYC marathon lottery, and now had a bib for that race. “I look back at that as my higher power working in my favor before I even knew I had a higher power.” That fourth of July weekend, fresh out of treatment, armed with his NYC roadrunner sixteen week training plan, he began the next chapter of his life. “Running, against the backdrop of an active recovery program, gave me so much confidence and has helped me forge a life beyond my wildest dreams.”
Four months later, Matt re-traced his sister-in law’s steps through the streets of New York, finishing the NYC marathon. “It was a life-altering event, a culmination of sixteen weeks of hard work.” He vividly remembers the perfect fall weather that day, with the golden sunlight bouncing off of everything. Two million spectators lining the streets, along with about two dozen of his friends and family, cheered Matt on. He was a finisher and he was clean.
Over the next seven years, Matt ran another couple dozen marathons, and also competed in triathlons. I wondered how he made the leap to ultrarunning, and he pointed to a decision he made while running in 2013. He often trained in the Watchung Reservation, a large nature reserve a couple miles from his house in New Jersey. There is an eleven mile paved loop, around the outside perimeter of the reservation, where Matt did all of his training. He could see all the inner paths, leading the the woods and trails, but for six years, he stayed on the outside loop. “I was scared, I was nervous, and didn’t know what to expect.” Even after all of his success, he still had doubts. But on that day, his curiosity got the best of him, and he veered into the woods. “Once I dropped into the trail system, I was blown away by the world that opened up to me.”
Soon after venturing onto the trails, he completed his first one hundred mile race, the Beast of Burden, along a Lake Eerie tow path. After that race, the Vermont 100 caught his eye, leading him to that emotional epiphany he had, hearing about Julia’s story.
Running trails also brought out the kid in Matt. “When you’re out there running in the snow or the rain, you try to keep your shoes dry, until they get wet and then you’re jumping in the puddles and having a blast. It’s almost like you just surrender to what’s out there and enjoy it, and live in the moment.”
These days, Matt maintains a busy schedule, wearing many hats. He has two daughters ages 14 and 11. He and Nicole have been happily married for 18 years. His mornings start at 4:30a.m., as he commutes by train to the city, often getting home after 7p.m. In addition, he goes to NA meetings, is active with his Temple, and sneaks in his running miles. In 2019, he will go for his sixth straight completion at the Vermont 100. He will also make his debut at the Tahoe 200. He hopes to eventually get into Western States, and make a run at the Grand Slam, along with UTMB. Longevity is clearly part of his plan. “I was always waiting for my brain to kick in and say enough is enough. It hasn’t happened yet, so I’ve given up on the idea that that’s going to happen.”
Throughout our chat, Matt talked a lot about experience, strength, and hope. He was extremely candid and open, as he shared his ups and downs of his life. It got me thinking how his journey, like many of our own, are much more like a bumpy trail, full of roots and rocks and obstacles; than a smooth paved road. The second word that comes to mind in gratitude. “If someone else can identify with where I’ve been, and what I’ve gone through, and that helps them, so be it.”