I am a runner.
First I was a kid. I still act like one sometimes. Then I became a husband. Marriage is easy compared to what came next. Parenting. As rewarding as it is, being a parent feels like a crapshoot – we never know how our actions will affect our children. Somewhere in there I went to school and became a lawyer. My dad always told me that “the law is a jealous mistress.” I find it to be a means to an end. My mistress is the trail. She is the one who lures me away from my family. She is my weakness. I am a kid, a husband, and a dad – but without knowing the trail, it is not possible to truly know me.
I am not that good at running. I used to be a heel-striker. Now, I am mostly a mid-foot striker. Rarely am I a forefoot striker, but I like to read about those who can do it for effortless, endless miles. When I get tired, which is often, I go back to heel-striking. I do not run fast, and will never win a race, but I have never dropped. I am a “middle of the pack” runner. It’s okay with me.
When I first started to buy shoes for running I was intimidated, and always asked the assistant what he or she thought about the different shoes. Now, I find that their comments show a lack of knowledge about ultra running. Most shoe companies don’t even make a 2E or 4E trail shoe, so it doesn’t matter. I blow out the side of the “extra-wide toebox” in the first few hundred miles of use, or I cut the shoe open and put tape over it to accommodate my feet. I recently found the perfect shoes – let’s hope they do not modify them anytime soon.
Once I started running Ultras, I learned that walking is acceptable – now I walk too much. It is pretty stupid to walk during a 10-mile training run when I don’t have to, but I like it. I do it because I get to appreciate the trail I am on and stay outside for an extra 5 minutes. I get crabby when I do not run for more than a day or two, unless I am in the middle of nowhere, with my family, enjoying nature. Even then, on vacation, my family notices a difference. They tell me to take a run. So I do.
My left pinky toe is totally inadequate for running. It likes to slide underneath the next toe over, cycling through blisters all year long. The only time I do not get the blister is when I have a callus formed from a previous blister . . . drained, refilled, and slowly formed over the past week’s runs. Sometimes blood wells up underneath the gummy callus, and I get a new blister, but a clean sewing needle can fix anything. As long as I can run the next day, I feel right by my treatment. After I run in the pouring rain or through a stream, my callus sloughs off, and the process begins again.
Running in the Midwest is like raising children – I am fascinated by the current stage of Nature, but am always ready to see what’s in store next. Of course I enjoy Fall. It offers crisp, clean air and the turning of the leaves. It is when the Midwest really shines. Winter here, while difficult to come to grips with, is a quiet meditative time. Seeing hoarfrost envelope dead leaves still clinging to prairie grass is a gift not many receive. And never do I feel as resilient as I do during the post-run thaw. The Spring brings new smells, vibrant colors, and the shedding of layers. That leaves the summer humidity, and it . . . . well, it helps me relish the other three seasons.
I live for the long run. It is an opportunity to experience a full range of emotion in a 5 or 6 hour outing. I am invincible yet downtrodden. I experience moments of genius tempered by stupidity. I am the meaningless game changer. Running is more than a bit of a head game. Anyone who tells you differently has never run outside their comfort zone. It is good for my head.
When I feel like I can run no more, I gather strength from almost everything around me. I store power from those who doubt the sanity of the long run, the stranger who gives me a thumbs-up, and the couple who, although they have seen me many times throughout the years, still will not wave back or say hello. I collect energy from the man who smokes on the trail and the older gals who ask me to slow down so they can run with me. I really get a charge when people tell me it is unhealthy – it makes me want to run even farther.
After a really long run I occasionally need to curl up in the fetal position and lie on the floor. My legs ache, my blisters throb, and my stomach churns. Every part of my body is alive. I make childish jokes about how dumb I have been to think I could run so far and not feel pain. My wife offers no sympathy. My kids bring me water, poke fun at me, and fill me with love to get me back on my feet again. Each of them truly knows me. They approve of my mistress. They know I need to run – it is what I am.
I am a runner.