The Race Across the USA started on January 16, 2015 at Huntington Beach pier in California and finished at the White House in Washington D.C. Twelve “core team” runners and 11 state runners started this race across the country. Of the twelve core team runners, seven of us finished. Overall, more than 40 state runners joined us along the way running across one of the states or completing one of our 4-day events.
Running more or less a marathon a day for 4 ½ months was hard enough. But, I wasn’t only a participant – I was also a co-race director – a role that I shared with my wife, Sandy. Until today, I haven’t written anything about our adventure. But, today, my silence ends.
I had a lot of time and passion invested in this race. In order to stay within budget, we needed to find places to stay along the way. We slept on the floor in high school gyms and at churches. We slept in people’s homes and campgrounds too. Roughly once a week we stayed in a hotel room. All of this need to be planned ahead of time. Without this level of planning, Sandy and I didn’t believe we would be successful. We also had planned to stop at schools along the way. By the end of our journey we had visited over 5,000 students at 28 different schools. The school visits were one of the highlights of the journey.
The team reached Palm Springs in four days and this is where we said goodbye to those running the Urban Challenge (the first four days of California). Five runners continued with the core team all the way to the state border with Arizona. Crossing the Colorado River was definitely one of the high points of the trip. But, cracks were already forming and tempers would flair soon after (including mine). We lost Coop due to business obligations at the end of California. We shed three other runners in quick succession in Arizona. Jessica was forced to end her bid just outside of Texas due to a stress fracture in her foot and two cracked vertebrae in her back. Each one of these losses hurt a lot. But, each day, I tried to just focus on finishing the day’s run.
Prior to the race, I trained hard leading up to running 19.7 miles a day for 8 days in a row so that I could get my head around what running across the USA was going to be like. I also ran parts of the route through California with my good friend Linda, one of the other coast-to-coast runners. During the race, I just took it a day at a time – thinking about how great it would be to have a cold one and relax that evening. If my mind started think about how far we still needed to go, I refocused my attention on the progress I had made so far. In fact, I would often mislead myself into thinking that I was running only to the next aid station.
These tactics worked for a while. But, I realized that I need to take it up a notch. I mean, it took almost a month to run across Texas. So, here I kept my mind off running by coming up with little problems to solve. For example, I would see a “FOR SALE” sign and imagine building a home there. Would I build one story or two? Which direction would the house face? What would it be like inside? This was especially important during the middle of each day’s run when confronted with the monotony of doing the same thing day after day. If I did start to experience pain, of course, I would attempt to address it by adjusting my equipment, changing my pace or altering my running style. But, I knew that pain often comes and goes and tried to not worry too much about it. Sometimes I passed the time talking with the hero of the bunch – Newton – our oldest runner at age 73.
Finally, Sandy and I planned celebrations at the end of each state. This was a time to say goodbye to the runners who had run across with us. Likewise, we knew we were one state closer to our goal. We celebrated our progress at the end of each state with a team dinner. We also celebrated every significant milestone such as completing our first month or the 1000 miles or crossing the Continental Divide. Once we passed Texas, things really started to pick up. Louisiana only took two days. We knocked Arkansas out in a week. Crossing the Mississippi was a highlight. Tears filled my eyes as I crossed the bridge knowing that we were roughly two-thirds of the way through.
We got snowed on in Roswell, NM and also during the first two or three days of Texas at the end of February. Now just six weeks later in Mississippi, the temperature and humidity rose affecting all seven of the remaining runners. We crossed into Virginia near the end of May and put in ten back-to-back days of running. On one of the last days of our crossing, we put in a 30-mile day. As the temperature soared into the 90s, I had concerns that I might faint from the heat. Running up and down the hills of Prince William County were tough. But, knowing that we were only a day away from our goal, made it tolerable.
That night, I had a surprise visitor – my daughter Lauren. She had taken time off work to run the final day of our race with me. It was a good thing she came too because I was physically and emotionally spent. I gave her my phone and asked her to follow the route on the screen. After a few miles into the run that day, we picked up the Mt. Vernon Trail, eventually crossing the Potomac River along the Arlington Memorial Bridge all the way to the White House. The following day, we ran another 29 miles to the Chesapeake Bay, which of course empties into the Atlantic. Our journey was finally complete.
So, you might ask: “Was it worth it?” Honestly, my answer has changed over the ensuing months. As time passes, some of pain and hard feelings have faded and the strength of the friendships, good will, cooperation and support shine through. Every day, when I made it to one of the aid stations, I got a high-five and “Good job!” from the research assistants Andrea, Sam and Garrett. Without fail, Bryce, Rob, Nancy and Alex cheered me one as their car passed me on the way to accommodations for the night. Seeing the passion that all of the racers put into the school visits as well as the enthusiastic response from the kids was heartening to say the least. Beyond this, it’s satisfying to know that, by putting on this race, I have helped everyone who finished a segment, a state or the entire country to reach their personal goals.
Running has changed me. Beyond that obvious benefits of exercise, it has given me confidence. You see, each race involves a goal, a lot of planning, hours of training and finally, the boost that comes as a result once you’ve achieved your goal. I find, more and more, that I’m no longer trying to prove something. Instead, I’m searching for new ways to increase my impact. I have come to the realization that the “impossible” is merely “difficult”. And that there are even greater challenges in my future that involve supporting others in their journey towards improved health and fitness.