I saw a documentary about the origins of surfing and in that video they explained that the first Polynesians that had their culture wrapped around surfing believed that the final goal of a man was to surf. That was the ultimate goal in life.
Sometimes I think that in the world of travelers something very similar can be stated about their lives. If you press them hard enough for a purpose, reasons, or motivations that keep them on the road you will see a common pattern in most cases:
Travel is freedom. It’s a fantasy and an escape from routine.
It is also not expensive. Oftentimes spending more money will only build more separation between you and the places and people you travelled so far to see. Most of the amazing experiences you will find will be on the streets, at the houses of people you will meet, at witnessing how they will open their doors and their hearts to you.
Connecting with people intensifies the experience. Extroverts have more fun. Your attitude will set how you feel about it more than the experiences themselves. If you don’t enjoy a place it is probably because you don’t know enough about it. Give every culture the benefit of an open mind. Be positive and optimistic at all times and you will notice that your attitude will also be contagious.
Traveling can make you happier. It will break many of your assumed truths, it will challenge your previous knowledge about other people and places. You will start to make up your own mind about other cultures instead of adopting other people’s opinions as if they were your own ideas. It’s humbling to travel and find that other people don’t have the same dreams, don’t watch the same news, don’t have the same concerns and priorities. They also wouldn’t trade places with you, even if they appreciate and like who you are. Traveling you will learn new ways to measure quality of life.
Becoming a traveller destroys xenophobia and other forms of prejudice. It will make you understand and appreciate other cultures. Rather than fear diversity you will celebrate it. The most valuable souvenirs you will bring to your final destination will be the pieces of different cultures you will choose to absorb into your own character.
With a little over half-way done I think I can make a pretty accurate comparison between what I thought it would be like to run across America and how it is going so far.
Better than planned:
I believed that camping would be detrimental to recover and that every time I camped it would be more difficult to run the next day than if I stayed indoors, ideally sleeping on a mattress. That prediction was completely wrong! I sleep very well camping, there are fewer distractions, the timing is more adequate, and I usually wake up refreshed and get on the road sooner than when I couchsurf. So camping is great!
Ice baths, massages, pain killers, special diet… I thought I would need all this to keep up. But in reality I am not missing any of it. The massage sessions were decisive during training, but now during the run they would be a luxury. The level of physical stress I am experiencing does not require any special care other than sleeping well for at least 8 hours, ideally 9 or 10. That is all I need to be good as new in the morning.
To keep a 27 mile average I would have to often run more than 30 miles on a day and would complete the run in 100 days. That is proving not just difficult but undesirable. I am having a much better experience, socializing much more, and enjoying my days a lot more at my current 24 mile average. That will mean finishing this in around 112 days plus the days off. So be it, I am liking it much more this way.
I used to think that other than by people interested in running I would be pretty much alone. I didn’t think I would make so many friends that are not into running at all. But to my happiest surprise I have been contacted by people from all walks of life both on the road and in the cities I go through, and I am making many friends among them.
Worse than planned:
I used to think that many people would try to locate me and run along a little or a lot. It has happened a few times but not nearly as often as I imagined.
Attracting attention of the press to this was very easy in Florida, where I thought it was going to be difficult, and has been very difficult since I left Florida, where I thought it was going to be the easiest. That part perplexed me.
I believed running clubs, running stores, would be interested in meeting, having impromptu runs and Q&A sessions. But the few running clubs we contacted made no effort to hide their indifference. I got some sponsorship from a waste management company, a catering company, but after contacting dozens of running stores without success I gave up on that part.
The running clubs are so indifferent to it that if it wasn’t for the enthusiasm of some individuals, runners that brought me in anyway, I wouldn’t have any contact with any running club anywhere, both during training and during the run. I also noticed that I never find doctors or any healthcare organization maintaining or running or promoting any running club: It is always a running store, which ultimately does it because it is good for bu$ine$$. Weird, huh?
Update: The story was different in Phoenix, where the stores and the running clubs were receptive and welcoming!
Taking county roads is an invitation to get lost and end up in farmer’s backyard instead of where Google Maps tells you to go. Rural counties do a poor job of updating Google about which roads are not open to the public.
Just as planned:
- Middle of Florida was the most difficult part of all.
- Louisiana was the hardest state to go through.
- Texas has been the friendliest place.
In a fabulous article written a few weeks ago, Paul Staso tells that since he ran across America in 2006 he has received emails from more than a thousand people wanting advice, financial assistance, coaching, and more toward their own dreams of crossing the continent on foot. What is most interesting is that out of those just 7, yes seven, actually started their run, and only 3 of them that have actually succeeded at it!
Only 3 out of more than a thousand!
Running across America is still an extremely rare endeavor. Keep in mind that about half a million Americans ran a marathon, and roughly 3,000 people have successfully climbed Mount Everest. However, only about 250 people have successfully crossed the United States on foot by walking or running. And of those only 11 did it running and without a support crew driving along with them.
Only 11 people crossed America running alone!
In comparison, 12 men walked on the moon!
All that brings me back to the importance of starting. I will feel more comfortable, free, and actually relieved the day that I start running. I know there are a lot of challenges to face then, but the scariest challenge, the greatest fear, is always the fear of not taking the first step.
“Reflecting on 40 years of running and racing, I’ve come to the realization that the most important consideration about running is not how fast you can run, not how far you can run, but rather, the degree and manner in which running and racing enhance your life. That is the sum and substance of the worth of running. Having said that, I would venture to guess that very few runners either think or dwell on such enhancement. Their energies, their thoughts, are directed to times, PRs (personal records), races, mileage, gear, and the eternal search for the perfect shoe. I plead guilty to having done much of that when I was competing. Maybe the realization and appreciation of enhancement dawn only after a person has suffered the loss of running and racing. While active, we’re just too damned obsessed with the inconsequential to recognize how privileged we are, how running and racing enhance our lives. One thing for sure, if you lose running and racing, you had better be able to devise ways to compensate because you will have a huge void to fill when you come to realize how running enhanced your life.” – Paul Reese, 2004
Reading They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky was not easy. Actually it took me more than a month to go through it. That book is deeply depressing. It tells the story, in great detail and in their own words, of three boys who had to flee their village in Sudan when it was attacked by government troops. For weeks, then months, then years, these children had to run for their lives, fearing soldiers, lions, hyenas, poisonous snakes, starvation, diseases, and the full brutality of war. It is a profoundly sad story that will leave you wondering how is that possible for people to be so bad to each other, but most of all how can people be so bad to children?
But everything has to have a good use, beyond what is on the surface. And I have found it in my running. Sometimes when I am feeling lousy, the run is difficult, usually towards the end of it… I look around and say to myself “I don’t see any soldiers chasing me, there are no lions or hyenas around, and I have water and clothes. I guess my situation is very good right now!” and that lifts me up quite a bit. I keep thinking about how much harder it must be to run naked, thirsty, starving, crying, running from animals, being beaten by the adults, killed in bomb raids, having your things stolen, being constantly sick, and having to live running away in fear for years, starting when you are 5 years old! It is mind boggling, and it reminds me of how privileged I am, of how much easier my world is in comparison to theirs, and makes me find reserves of energy and motivation I didn’t know I had.
I notice often in the news articles about people who are endeavoring to do some athletic or adventurous feat. Be the first to do something, the youngest to do something else, or achieve some other noteworthy, and often newsworthy, goal. The feats require effort, perseverance, and preparation. But I sometimes end up with a slightly uncomfortable feeling about why the person is so hell-bent on the goal in the first place. I’m all for adventure. But for adventure’s sake. And when there’s a lot of hoopla around the effort, I can’t help but wonder… would that person still do it if there was no press, no fame, no book deal, no speaking engagements to be had in the end, and if nobody was going to know they’d even done it? Much of what dominates the news, these days, is election hype, political maneuvering, and the stories of people bent on wealth, power, or personal fame.
Then I asked… would I still do it?
Would I do the same run not because there was fame or achievement or a great book deal in it for me, but because I wanted to achieve something of value in itself?
Would I do it even if nobody would know about it? If I had to keep it a secret after finishing it, would I still do it?
I am absolutely comfortable to say that the answer is “yes”.
I want to make this blog not about me but about those helping, participating, and having a great time doing it. I want to make money not for myself but for EdenInAfrica.org and a fabulous person that dedicated herself to another cause that many would call “lost”.
Fame is one the most elusive and treacherous things to have, when it is pursued as a goal. And in a field like ultrarunning, fame seems to be even more elusive than anywhere else. Just finding information about other people that did runs across America was difficult enough. Checking their fundraising results was a major revelation: Very few raised more money than they spent doing the run itself. Of many that tried you can certainly pick up a case or two that had major marketing and PR teams behind it and well… they didn’t even finish their runs. If you look at their following on Tweeter just a few days after their run is done you will be surprised to see most of them back down at 3 digit numbers.
No matter what the goal, outcome, or hype, the fame that arises from most accomplishments rarely lasts. Ironically, the moments and people we remember best are often those who don’t even succeed.
“… Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are…” – David Blaikie (Former journalist; Athletics Historian and Statistician. Founding Member of the Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Former President of the Association of Canadian Ultrarunners.)
Most often than not by the time I am supposed to start a run I am feeling tired, sleepy, lousy, or still not completely recovered from last day’s run. Some days my legs felt like they were made of marble. Sometimes the whole body was hurting.
Those times I always think about how much better I feel at the end of every run. Because in fact I always feel better at the end of every run than I felt in the beginning, without exception! Knowing that is a great self motivation.
I also know that no matter how hard and heavy my body feels, it takes me about two miles of walking or slow jogging for my body to feel flexible, my joints “lubricated” and my body temperature ideal for the run. So I just plow through the beginning of it searching for that feeling. Of course most would call it a “warm up”, but I like to feel about it not just as a physical routine but more as a ritual of meditation and awakening of both body and mind.
Racing is an artificial event, with finish lines, boundaries, preset courses, and plenty of rules to follow.
Running is much more free. There are no boundaries, there are no finish lines, there are no schedules. There is the freedom of going as you please, watching and exploring, a much deeper connection with the world around you.
It’s my nature to prefer the adventure and freedom of running instead of the regimented and contrived environment of racing. That is why when people ask me if I will later run marathons my honest answer is “I don’t know”, because at this moment I don’t feel like racing at all.
My challenge to run across the country placed me in between those two concepts. I end up with rules, schedules, and boundaries. But they were all self-imposed, and to some extent I could change them without affecting the end result.