THE JOURNEY ACROSS AMERICA – AGAIN
Day 13 (May 13, 2000) – 50.0 miles
During the night leading into day 13, I woke-up just once, though I slept restlessly until about five in the morning. Before shutting down for the night, I changed my watch to Rocky Mountain time, and my first thought when I woke up and looked at my watch was that I overslept. After realizing what I had done, I recognized that we only had a 23-hour day to accomplish what we had been doing the previous 12-days with an extra hour to work with. The next thing I noticed was how brutally cold it was. I was shivering; I didn’t want to get out of bed. I hadn’t been this cold since I moved to San Diego in 1997. I quickly got up and put on four layers of clothes on top, two layers on bottom, pulled the covers over me, and went back to bed.
Soon, Ray came in, threw two more blankets over me, and suggested I do the stretching routine under the blankets, which I did. After a series of hip and back stretches, I did some straight leg stretches, sit-and-reach exercises, and toe touches, which lasted about 45 minutes. I was definitely starting to loosen-up and was surprised at how limber I was getting, even though my Achilles was still sore. Once out of bed and standing up, I did some calf stretches.
Because of the cold, I wasn’t eager to get outside, but outside Ray and I went. Don woke up as we were leaving, and the three of us went over the list of things we needed to bring onto the Jeep. Soon, Ray drove me out to the entrance to the corral, where we had finished the run the day before. We got there about five minutes to seven, which would have been five minutes to six Pacific Time. It was brutally cold to us; we were bundled up. I was still wearing four layers of upper body clothing and two layers of running tights. We started joking about how both Ray and I relocated from the northeast – Ray to Hawaii and me to San Diego – just to avoid being this cold. Now we had a full day (minus one hour) to move the Journey forward in weather that was not our favorite. This was the first day of the whole trip that we were this cold in the morning as we set out for the day.
When we arrived at the entrance to the corral’s driveway, Ray took the morning picture and we were off. I started walking; it was really tough getting going. My legs were dead. Surprisingly I didn’t feel much pain or discomfort – just low energy. There was tenderness in my left Achilles, but my body was pretty much intact. The only thing I noticed was I just couldn’t get moving. I was really tired and found it very tough to get motivated after the excitement of the day before.
The first part of today’s Journey was comprised of rolling hills through a beautiful picturesque meadow, full of well-manicured grass lawns and flowering shrubs. Soon the terrain began to get steeper and uphill stretches longer. I was getting concerned that we were going to be doing a lot of mountain running again, but after not-to-long, the road leveled off and was much more manageable.
Ray and I were soon joined by Don, Monea, and Laura in the motor coach. We stayed in close proximity to each other for a while. The road took us through the Gila National Forest and down into the town of Glenwood where Bill Sweet lived. Bill was a friend of Monea’s dad, Larry. Monea went up ahead to see if Larry had linked up with Bill, but was told that Larry would meet us later in Alma. There, Larry would have a shipment of supplies that we needed – mainly supplements and nutritional products.
The biggest challenge we faced during this part of the Journey was the road itself. There was no shoulder. I was forced to run right on top of the white line that marked the right side of the car lane, while cars were whizzing by in the same direction as I was running. To the right of the car lane was an un-runnable area of grass and dirt. The side of the road itself, sloped down at a severe angle, making it impossible for me to land on level ground. Every step wreaked havoc on my feet and lower extremities. My Achilles was aching.
During this trip through the national forest, I had my first minor accident. I tripped and landed on my right hand, opening a cut about the size of a dime, leaving a piece of skin flapping over the open wound. We promptly cleaned it up, put gauze on it, and wrapped it up with adhesive tape. Soon after, a fairly large horse fly bit me on my Achilles. Ray handed me some Benadryl to put on it, and that seemed to take care of discomfort. Yet, all those developments were just minor inconveniences compared to what was – again – turning into a potentially major issue: The two pair of running shoes that Greg was able to acquire back on day 5 were quickly getting used up.
I rotated the shoes daily. Never running in the same pair two days in a row. They had held up for the 400 or so miles we’ve covered since Greg brought them to me as we were leaving Arizona. But given the running conditions of the past few days, both pair of shoes were approaching uselessness. We weren’t likely to run across a big shopping mall with a Sporting Goods store as we traveled through the Gila National Forest and on to the Apache National Reservation. Even if we were lucky enough to find a store in such a remote area, what would be the likelihood they would even have a pair of running shoes size 12 EEEE in stock. I was getting nervous. We needed to figure out a way to secure a new supply of running shoes within a couple of days or I might have to start running barefoot.
At about 4:30, Ray informed me that the last 15 miles were going to contain some fairly steep rises and declines, thus setting me up to be prepared for some more serious mountain running up ahead.
By 7:38 pm Rocky Mountain time, the climb, at least for today was over. We made it past Saliz Pass, New Mexico – elevation 6436 feet – which would be the highest elevation thus far achieved during the Journey. Yet I knew that didn’t mean that I had just put the most challenging of the Journey’s mountain running behind me. There would still be plenty of mountain challenges up ahead.
Months before setting out on the Journey, I met with John Howard, one of the world’s greatest endurance cyclists. John was a friend of mine and he competed in the 1982 Race Across America bike race. I asked him what was the most challenging terrain he faced. I was expecting him to say the Rocky Mountains out west. He surprised me when he said: “Pennsylvania”. So, while we got through today – once again – I knew there will be more mountain roads up ahead. The good news for today was that the basic direction from here – and for now at least – was down.
I was in a lot of pain, especially my right hip, which seemed to be out of synch with the rest of my body. I was getting sharp pains from my right glute down into my hamstring, which probably was caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. I was able to manage it, though. Often it meant running a few steps, walking a little bit; stopping and stretching; getting back into a walk; running again – and then after less than a-quarter-of-a-mile, stopping and stretching some more. Moving became quite erratic and inconsistent. I was finally able to be in a state where I could jog slowly down the hill.
There were 4 miles left to get to the camp and to complete the 50-miles for the day. My left knee was definitely quite wobbly and painful – basically a recurrence of the discomfort I felt the weeks before I left San Diego. The point now is just to get back to camp and address all these body issues with ice, wrappings, some stretching, a shower and then some dinner. I’ll finish the day with another long stretching session. I planned to wake up early to all I can to prepare myself for the next day of the Journey.
I imagined tomorrow will be a pretty important day given how beat up I felt today. I’d come to believe that the key to ultra-running was not how much pain one could handle; the key was how effectively you can heal yourself; how well you knew your body; and how willing were you do the work to necessary to get your body ready-to-go the next day.
This was a lesson I learned back in 1977 when I ran in my first Boston Marathon. I wrote about this in detail in my book Slow Burn, Chapter 8. I was living in Boulder, CO at the time, and had qualified for Boston three months earlier at the Mission Bay Marathon in San Diego. That was my very first marathon, and I ran it in 2 hours 46 min. I was hoping to do even better at Boston. Turned out, on Patriots Day in Boston, I severely twisted my ankle not 10 yards into the race, and hobbled to the finish by filling my socks with ice. My ankle was so swollen and painful, I could not stand once I crossed the finish line. I was put in a wheel chair, and brought to the hotel where my family was staying. I was embarrassed, and felt horrible. I knew then, that the victory wasn’t to just finish the race, the victory would be if I could figure out a way to heal myself so I could run the next day. I stayed up all night, in the bathroom, icing my ankle for 20 minutes-on-and-20-minutes-off for 2 hours. Then I alternated icing with mildly hot water to create a “bellows” effect, in order to push the toxins out of my ankle, using the same strategy: 20 min cold, then 20 minutes hot, for another two hours. I then did some range of motion ankle exercises. By dawn, I went for a 10K run. When I finished, I couldn’t have been happier if I had broken 2:20 for the marathon. That day turned what could have been a devastating defeat into an empowerment that was going to get me through the rest of the Journey.
Back on the Journey, and after making a few adjustments, the pain in my hip was diminishing. I even experienced brief moments of serenity coming down the hill, surrounded by the spectacular panoramic view of the mountains. Even though my pace was just an easy jog, shifting into barely a shuffle, just knowing that I could walk the rest of the evening and still easily get my fifty was uplifting. I thought about what was I really trying to accomplish here on the Journey. The phrase that came to mind then was “to aspire to inspire”; to make a difference in the lives of everyone I care about.
I got a call from a friend of mine, Russ, who lived in San Diego and has now called me a number of times during the Journey. He’s told me how inspired he’s been because of what I am doing. He let me know that every day as he goes to sleep, he lies there thinking about me running. He then gets up every morning and runs three miles. This weekend he told me, “I’m going to do five.” He thanked me for inspiring him. I know that I have made a difference in his life, and maybe in the lives of other members of my community – ultimately positively impacting the lives of my children, and my children’s friends and schoolmates. My son and daughter have seen me work so relentlessly in order to realize and complete a project that seemed so unlikely to even get off of the ground.
…and here I am running across the country at an insane rate of fifty miles per day. I don’t even know if I can maintain that pace. Towards the later stages of each day I often wonder if I will be able to reach to the 50-mile mark, let alone get myself ready for the next day. I wonder if I will let people down if I don’t put myself back together and keep going. The reality of all this is: All I can do is handle the givens of each situation and do my best to try and correct the things that are not working. I think that one of the biggest lessons I am learning now, and one that is clear by doing something like this is: “Worrying about what hasn’t happened yet is a waste of energy”.
Empowerment comes from dealing with the exigencies around me and just keep moving forward; persistently and relentlessly keep moving forward. This inspires me and I am glad. Most importantly, understanding that everyone has incredible potential to be extraordinary, regardless of one’s age and knowledge base; there’s always something more you can do. There is always the opportunity for growth and self-expression, if only we take a chance and commit wholeheartedly to everything and anything we decide to do.
Another thought I had today finishing up the run was conviction. Conviction from the heart and believing in something bigger than oneself, and doing whatever it takes to follow that conviction to its conclusion. If the run of nearly 3,000 miles across America inspires one parent to take a jog, or take a child out to play, or encourage healthy eating habits, or get involved with a childhood charity, volunteering time or simply donating money to a charity that works toward the health and wellbeing of children, then this journey is successful beyond belief. These are thoughts that keep me going right now. They are matched and surpassed only by the thoughts of my own family who I miss tremendously, my son Beau, my daughter Mackenzie and my wife Mary Beth. Today’s Journey is finally winding down. We finally arrived at the Cottonwood Camp in the Apache National Reserve.
Now it was time to get ready for tomorrow’s run. My lower right back and hip were definitely out-of-whack, as was my neck – although I had managed to recover sufficiently to finish strong during the last four or five miles of my run. I knew I had a lot of work to do that evening. I spoke to Donald and together we decided I should take a shower first. Immediately after showering, ice the areas that had been most tender, including my left Achilles, right and left hamstrings, the inside portion of both legs and my right hip.
I did this again on my bed with my feet up on a huge block and my
knees at a right angle. I stayed in that position for twenty minutes, getting the parts of my body nice and cold and relaxed and calm. Both Pete Egoscue and Greg Werner had convinced me that doing so would relax the muscles, making it easier to stretch and release tension.
After the twenty minutes were up, Larry Woolley, who had just joined us, and Donald unwrapped the ice bags that were placed around me and began to work on each area. They did so after I lay on my stomach and they began to work on my Achilles and glutes on both sides and my shoulders. Larry finished off working my feet and we were done.
The whole process took about 45 minutes. I got up and Donald and I checked my feet one last time. We found that a blister on my bunion had opened up and the skin had pulled away. We dressed that up. The middle toe on my left foot had a very tender fungus growing on it. We dabbed it with Campho-Phenique to kill the pain.
Finally, it was time for dinner: Sautéed tofu, rice and vegetables and two V-8’s. I took my supplements. After dinner, Laura showed me the map of the cellular phone service we had been using which indicated that most of New Mexico was not serviced by the company. We would have no cell phone service for a few days. That meant no communications with home, which saddened me; I was missing my family. I also realized that could not generate a chiropractor to meet me in Socorro by the middle of the week. I would have to rely on other people generating that for me or continue on my own with my stretching routine and massage by the members of the crew.
I finished my dinner and went on back to bed around 10:30 and stretched for another hour. It was ironic that I thought I was the last one up. I heard Ray snoring. He needed his rest too. I fell asleep around 12:15.