By Matt Skoufalos
During the workday, Brad Reed is the senior director of diagnostic imaging services at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon. With responsibilities on both the health care and academic sides of the facility, Reed lives a meeting- and planning-heavy day-to-day existence, overseeing performance improvement, budget and safety concerns.
Reed, a Chicago native, has only been in Portland for five years, but during the transition, has really opened himself up to the regional outdoor opportunities there, from hiking and sightseeing to extreme trail running. This past fall, “it kind of all came together,” as he participated in a 93-mile hike around Mount Ranier, Reed said.
“I love being outdoors,” he said. “I think the weather in the Pacific Northwest is perfect for that. It never gets too hot: cool mornings, warm afternoons, cool evenings. It’s the right elements for being outdoors and staying outdoors.”
Portland offers access to a wealth of natural beauty, from the shores of the Pacific coast, to the Columbia River Gorge and the waterfalls and trails of its old-growth forests. Beyond that, the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges loom, along with next-level hiking trails. Reed considers himself a novice at such activities, but has nonetheless tried his hand at many of them in a relatively short amount of time.
“The competitive nature of sports has always been part of my life,” he said. “As those years of playing rec sports came to an end, what was going to fill the void? I don’t want to be defined by the culture of golf; there’s other ways to challenge myself.”
Since the days when his wife first began volunteering for the Chicago marathon, Reed has participated in several. To date, he’s run 10 marathons, two 50-mile ultramarathons and a 50K ultramarathon. And yet, to his thinking, Reed describes himself as “an event participator,” and not a runner. He trains most heavily when there’s an event on his calendar, and in the interim months when there’s not, spends as much time outdoors as he can, albeit with a less strenuous agenda.
In tackling monumental distances, however, the only approach is to start small. Reed’s 93-mile hiking adventure began as interval training with day hikes, before working up to a 40-mile hike around a less challenging mountain. With three children in his household, from elementary school to college ages, his schedule doesn’t always allow for a consistent exercise routine, so Reed maintains “a minimal level of training,” at the least. Despite preparing seriously for the 93-mile hike, when it was time to set off, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t “100-percent ready.” The trail did its best to test his resolve, and when asked how he got by, Reed said, “A lot of it was grit.”
“There were days on that hike when it was nothing but 10 hours of elevation climbing,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself. You come out of it really believing you’re stronger and wiser.”
“[The experience] gives you this energy that you can really apply in your work life or in your home life,” Reed said. “It’s more than just accomplishing something as an event. It had a broader-scale impact for me. I have found it goes well beyond the activity.”
The experience offered many emotional takeaways, including the lesson that “there’s payoff from every effort,” even if it’s just attaining a beautiful view at the end of a long walk, Reed said. The physical exertion was itself a constant presence on the trip – the entire journey shaved 20 pounds off his frame, which he regained fairly shortly afterwards, Reed said – that reminded him of the effort the attempt demanded.
“It also renewed my energy and capacity for work and for life,” he said. “There’s going to be challenges that come up; there’s going to be different opinions, tensions, frustrations, but how do we weather the storm?”
“Just being out there, it’s that experience of re-finding and re-defining yourself,” Reed said. “All those things are indirect positives. The average problems seem smaller. Even when you don’t think you can go further, there’s one more step.”
Taking that philosophy back to his leadership role at Oregon Health & Science University, Reed steeled his resolve for tackling larger problems in the workplace with incremental confidence. The approach has helped him find the ability “to really step into any one of our teams, help prioritize anything that’s a problem, break it apart and stay positive through the whole process,” Reed said.
“The forefront of the ultra-challenges I’ve participated in has caused me to pause and improve my engagement at work, or improve my relationships, both personal and at work, and add elements that weren’t there before that help me to energize,” Reed said. “It deepens my vision. Developing recognition options, taking the time to say thank you and lift others – that’s what this has helped me with.”
The biggest change that Reed is working to incorporate is making those approaches into a way of thinking that sustains forward momentum in the office, “instead of a one-off, hot-and-cold, flavor-of-the-month” tactic. He’s also a proponent of the same pathway serving others who might benefit from his experiences.
“We are challenged with health care today,” he said. “[Being outside] is the perfect outlet. It challenges you on a different level and encourages you to think creatively.”
“I advise anybody interested to start small; start with a day hike,” Reed said. “Get an expert, somebody who’s more experienced, who can help you. Read about where the safe hikes are. Start small. See how you feel. Find the overall appreciation for things that we might take for granted; things we drive by that we don’t stop and see.”