THE JOURNEY ACROSS AMERICA – GAIN
Day 18 (May 18, 2000) – 52.0 miles
Today began with a most magnificent morning. The sky was absolutely clear. Behind us to the west was a full moon, still lingering in the sky, soon to disappear. Straight ahead to the east, was a spectacular sunrise. The huge glowing sun was rising slowly above gentle mountain slopes, due east. Ray and I drove out to today’s starting line, followed by Ivan and Jean, a reporter from the local Mountainair newspaper, who came to our campsite at 5:30am.
Ivan connected with Jean the evening before we got into Mountainair. He went to the office of the local newspaper to inform them the we would be arriving the next day. Jean stopped by for a visit at 9:15pm, at the end of day 17. After a 40-minute stretching session and an adjustment by Dr. Ross, we all sat around and talked about the event, as Jean asked questions, took notes and snapped pictures. She committed to joining us in the morning for the start of Day 18.
Ivan has been terrific thus far, after taking over for Larry, maintaining our momentum, keeping everyone’s spirits up, telling funning stories, causing us to laugh and relax – yet keeping us focused on our commitment to move the Journey forward.
We had Dr. Praeger’s veggie burgers for dinner last night which everybody seemed to enjoy. I told Don that since the stretching session and Dr. Ross’s adjustments left me feeling as good as I was going to get that night, that I would forgo the ice treatment and massage once again, so that he and the crew could shut down early and take advantage of the motel room that Herb had arranged for them. Laura, though, remained in the motor coach for a while, transcribing today’s audio recording. She has been amazing as the Journey’s chronicler; I’ve certainly been keeping her busy.
After retiring into the backroom around 11:00pm, I promptly fell into a deep sleep. I woke up at 4:00am and immediately grabbed the big foam block and began stretching. I must have dozed right away, for the next thing I knew was it was already 4:45. Herb was due to arrive at 5:30 for the morning adjustment. I immediately headed off to the main cabin for some vegetable soup.
Ray had the soup ready for me. I sat down, crumbled a rice cake into the soup, took my supplements, and got ready for Dr. Ross. Once Herb finished with the adjustment, we were ready to go, and Ray and I headed out to the Jeep.
The weather was cool and crisp. Though it was 48 degrees in Albuquerque, the entire landscape was bathed in sun. The sunlight felt warm and soothing against what skin was exposed. I am wearing shorts and a T-shirt, with a fleece-lined nylon warm-up top, and a baseball cap. I am feeling rather good. Herb said I checked out very well this morning. He was surprised that the adjustments had held from the previous day – so: So far, so good!
I am looking forward to listening to the NJ Devils game later today. The series with the Flyers was tied, one game each; although the NY Knicks lost to the Miami Heat last night. Herb, being from Florida, was pretty happy about that, and we had a laugh when I told him I still would let him work on me anyway.
At 9:29am, we are three-hours-and-thirty-five-minutes into the run. What a pleasant and calm run it has been thus far. The terrain was relatively flat. There were very few cars. Ray and I have been by ourselves once Jean and Ivan returned to the motor coach. There were railroad tracks along this stretch of the route. Every 20 minutes or so, what seemed to be a mile-long cargo train would roll by. Often the engineers would toot their horn. and I would look over and see them waving at me. I wondered if they had any idea about what I was doing. One thing was for sure, the 60-degree temperature and the very gentle breeze created the most pleasurable running weather conditions thus far. The sky was relatively clear, with a few puffy white clouds scattered about. There is nothing directly up ahead other than the bright sun bathing the landscape in sunshine.
Ray and I continued on, winding our way through a local town and waved at some of the town folks. I spent most of the last two hours on the cell phone talking to Mary Beth.
My son, Beau, got on the phone and asked me why I couldn’t just run for 24-hours-a-day and get this “thing” over with quickly, so I could come home to him. I told him if I ran for 24 hours straight, I probably wouldn’t run that many miles the next day. It’s better that I just keep the pace I am going at now. I assured him that I was getting there as quickly as I can.
Mary Beth sent me a care package, that was brought to me yesterday, with new running shoes that initially seem to be OK. They were a pair of New Balance that were the right length, extra wide, and very comfortable.
Thankfully, I’ve had a very non-eventful first three hours. I spoke to Mike Weinstein back in New York, and checked in with the home front there in terms of what was going on regarding publicity and potential sponsors. He did not have much to report. I also had a conversation with Ken of Exernet, who was one of our seed sponsors and responsible for managing the website. He told me that there has been a lot of activity on the website. We discussed the importance of sending Journey followers to the journeyacrossamerica.com website and not to the Exernet site, at least for the time being, so we can create name identity for the event. I told him about the radio interviews we’ve done, and how well they have been going.
We also discussed the importance of messaging: That I am running coast to coast to raise funds for charities that support the youth of America; that the transcontinental distance symbolizes the lengths we need to go to commit to the health and well-being of our nation’s youth; and that the insane pace of running 50+-mile-a-day emphasizes the urgency with which we have to do it.
We continue moving east over relatively flat terrain, with some eroded plateaus to the south of me on my right, and a few small mountains to the north on my left. For the most part, the flat terrain extends in front of me as far as I could see.
At 10:30 am, four-hours-and-thirty-five minutes into the run, I am closing in on 16 miles for the day, and somewhere around 880-miles for the Journey thus far. I’ve been listening to sports talk radio and making calls on my cell phone, while experiencing a combined sense of gratitude and relief that I do not have any significant troubling areas thus far, other than a sense of sluggishness. At times I am feeling as if I am running through molasses. I am intent on continuing to move forward, though, and wonder if changing my shoes had anything to do with it. There is a slight stiffness in the new shoes, and I am feeling a that each step seems to require more effort than it did before. I’ve been feeling more tired these last few days – sometimes overwhelmingly tired. I wondered if the five hours or less of sleep is sufficient. I keep waking up around 4:00am and just go with it. I am also am wondering if I am consuming a sufficient number of calories.
Back in the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, during the height of my competitive ultra-marathon career, my body fat was measured at 6%. Without having equipment along with me on this trip, I am fairly certain I am well below that now. I have never been this lean. Perhaps this noticeable drop in body fat is adversely affecting my energy level. Maybe we need to increase my caloric intake?
I had been hungrier than usual today. I’ve already had three rice cake sandwiches during the first four hours, plus one bowl of quinoa with broccoli, liberally doused with olive oil and Bragg’s Aminos. We’ve run out of almond butter, so I suggested that the crew make a rice cake sandwich with salt-free organic butter and Bragg’s Aminos in the middle. Still, my hunger remained. I am doing my best to gauge the right amount to eat, so I can satiate my appetite without feeling that I am losing energy digesting food as I am running. Portion control seemed to be key, with small amounts more frequently the best strategy.
The terrain began to change once again; more winding roads, rolling hills, and grassy knolls. I am still running alongside the railroad tracks; I keep seeing the words “Southern Pacific” on the side of the trains.
At 1:32pm, we are 7-hours-and-37-minutes into the run. The last seven miles or so have gone relatively smoothly. In fact, I have picked up the pace a little bit. It took approximately 6-hours to reach the 21-mile point, which was a relatively slow 3.5-mile-per-hour pace. I was feeling very heavy legged and sluggish. I decided to change my shoes, from the new ones Mary Beth just sent me to the ones I have been wearing the last few days.
Low and behold, my state changed immediately. The new shoes were rigid and made my legs feel dead. As soon as I changed shoes, I was able to pick up the pace to a little over 4-miles-per-hour. I have been cruising at that pace since the 6-hour point.
The sky was increasingly being filled by white puffy clouds which, when they floated in front of the sun, brought momentary relief from the heat which was picking up noticeably.
After finishing off my second bowl of quinoa and vegetables, Ivan finally returned from the airport, where he dropped of Dr. Ross. Herb is on his way to Chicago to meet up with Anthony Robbins at the Unlimited Power weekend, where he will also rendezvous with Mary Beth.
I’ve been on the phone with Bill Sanders and Larry Woolley, both of whom have been trying to locate running shoes for me. We’ve been unsuccessful in locating a suitable pair of running shoes in the state of New Mexico. Bill hopes to get a shipment of shoes to me sometime next week or arrange to have them brought in by either Merlin or Larry, when they join up with the caravan this weekend, or early next week at the latest. Bill informed me that the New Balance 620’s are no longer being made and they are now called 630’s. Either way I hope we can secure a few pairs soon. I expect to have one or two more days of life left in my current pair of running shoes.
At 3:08pm, nine-hours-and-fourteen-minutes into the run, and about 20-minutes after passing the marathon mark for today, Ivan joins me once again, and is now riding alongside me on his bicycle. We chatted about the prospect of generating funding for the event, and the need to be crystal-clear in terms of what we need in order to keep the Journey alive. I must say it is a bit of an emotional challenge to be commanding my body forward 14-hours-a-day and to have to discuss financial matters that continue to threaten the viability of the event. Yet, what must be done; must be done. At the moment, there was nothing else more important to do but to keep moving forward. My conviction to persist was founded up a simple belief: Too many extraordinary people, with a vast array of talent and extensive connections, are involved with and contributing to the Journey for us to not be able to complete our mission to get to New York City.
Ever since the marathon point, and just before Ivan joined me, I have been moving over what seemed to be an endless series of rolling hills that were challenging enough, in and of themselves. Compounding the challenge was the steady rise of a fairly significant headwind. Around the 30-mile mark, both the terrain and weather started to change dramatically. The uphill angle became more severe, as did the headwind. Ivan soon went back to the motor coach, leaving me alone with my thoughts about the event: How are we going to make it through the next 2,000 miles, and how-in-the-world was I going to get through the rest of the day?
These next 15 or 20 minutes led me to one of the most memorable and transformational – or using the Tony Robbins vernacular – “breakthrough” moments of the entire Journey. The howling wind and series of upgrades combined to nearly grind my upward momentum to a halt. I had trouble focusing. I tried listening to the radio, but couldn’t hear a thing because the sound of the wind thundering past me was overwhelming. The wind drowned out all noise other than the roar of the semis as they whizzed by within inches of my body, on this very narrow shoulder of the two-lane highway. I started getting angry; I was upset – grinding my teeth and cursing under my breath at the wind, at the trucks, at the severe uphill angle of the road…and then…suddenly I stopped, put my hands over my face, and started laughing hysterically.
I realized that my anger, my cursing, and my “woe-is-me” state-of-mind was not going to cause the wind to stop, the mountains to flatten, the trucks to slow down, and the road shoulder to expand. I had three distinct options: 1) I could retreat to the motor coach or the Jeep and wait for the wind to die down; 2) I could continue moving forward in a pitiful and uninspired state; or 3) I could step-up and figure out what I needed to do get through and beyond the current challenge I was facing. I chose door number three.
I removed my headsets and put them in my utility belt – they were useless under these conditions anyways. I decided to just focus on taking one step after another. Soon I began counting my steps. Then counting steps became a cadence: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4-, 1-2-3-4. Soon the cadence became a song, one that my fellow ultra-distance runners and I used to sing during “bad patches” while competing with each other in multi-day races: “Jingle Bells – Jingle Bells – Jingle all the way” …and so on. I counted on my ability to control my inner state and to just keep moving forward, regardless of how I felt or what emotional state I may be in. At that point, forward progress was a product of my ability to control what I could control, and to accept that the conditions within which I was moving was totally out of my control. One step after another, after another, after another. The only reality that mattered was taking the next step.
The road eventually brought me to a small plateau, from where I could see a slight descent up ahead. Still, in the distance, there were more hills to be conquered. At 5:44pm, 11-hours-and-49-minutes into the run, I’ve finally reached a place that was reminiscent of how it was when we started today’s Journey – straight and fairly level. Thankfully, the wind has died down a bit as well. I felt as if my life was about to change forever; that I was no longer the same person I was when the Journey began.
Making it through this high plain in New Mexico turned out to be more an act of conscious will and deciding what to focus on, than it was a result of any physiological determinants. It wasn’t my VO2max, or leg strength, or degree of flexibility – or even my pain threshold that got me through this day. It was the simple realization than it was a decision to focus on what I could control and to accept that the situation in which I found myself wasn’t. I wasn’t aware of the “Serenity Prayer” then, but I’ve kept a copy of it on my desk ever since: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
As today’s Journey started to wind down, I began making mental notes on some of the other “insights” I’ve gained today. Ever since I changed my shoes at the 21-mile point, my body has been relatively manageable with no significant areas of pain or discomfort. While I had concerns over the funding, I was certain we would be OK – and, anyways, worrying about what hasn’t occurred yet was not going to lead to anything productive.
The focus must remain on continuing moving forward regardless of what negative thoughts may be creeping in my mind. The key was to embrace the pure essence of the run, which was to just keep moving forward. We were supposed to have radio interviews today. They didn’t materialize because we lacked cellular reception during the wind event. While we were all disappointed, we agreed that the most important thing was let it go and continue moving northeast, events be as they may. Moving forward and not looking back, and not lingering on things that did not work out the way we would have liked was the best way to proceed.
That night, as I lay in bed reliving the day’s events, I found it hard to not think about certain ironies in our culture. As my crew and I traverse the country at ground level, with a 40-foot motor coach escort, followed by a Jeep Cherokee that always right behind me, traveling 3-to-5-miles-an-hour, seeking funding to sustain our “Crusade for Kids”, I wondered how many of today’s sports stars and champion athletes truly understand the impact they can have on millions of young people.
Perhaps it’s easier to see the irony of this on a long stretch of deserted road on the New Mexico high plains, after running for 14 straight hours. Perhaps, I can accept and recognize that in the day-to-day lives that we all live, it is very easy to get caught up in the hype and mystique generated by the business of sports that too often promotes a “no-pain-no-gain” approach to physical training, along with a “winning is the only thing” measure of success, which can lead to elevating fitness at the expense of health, emphasizing competition over self-expression, and loses sight of what it means to be a healthy and well-rounded person. Perhaps, that is what the Journey is beginning to mean to me: Generating a new paradigm of success that starts with being healthy, vibrant, energetic and truly enjoying the gift of movement.