Friday, January 26, 2018

"How Hard Was It To Run Across America?"

A colleague at my office recently asked me what she considered to be a rather simple question: "How hard was it to run across America?" I've been asked a lot of questions in the nearly 12 years since I completed my solo coast-to-coast adventure, but that is a question I'm not actually asked very often. I'm used to being asked how many pairs of running shoes I went through (six), or how long it took me to run the 3,260 miles (108 days). Those are easy answers to toss out. However, trying to describe how "hard" it was to run across the country is very difficult.

For some people, it's "hard" just to make it to the end of the work week, or it's "hard" to take the stairs rather than the elevator. Trying to sum up the difficulty of the 6 million strides between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean seems nearly as difficult as it was to get myself to the starting line to begin that endeavor. How hard was that run? Well, it took every ounce of strength, determination, perseverance and faith that I had within me. It hurt -- every day! It beat me into the ground and there were times that I thought it might break me. How "hard" was it? Let me put it this way: It redefined the word "hard" in my life!

The picture above was taken on the hottest day of the run across America... in 105-degree heat in eastern Washington state on Highway 14 along the Columbia River. I was in the middle of a 30-mile day and was battling tendinitis in my lower right leg. There were rattlesnakes in the bushes along the road's edge, the pavement was radiating heat at over 140 degrees, and the stroller of gear, food and water weighed over half of my body weight (and I weighed 145 pounds at the time). If you look at my left shoulder in the photo you'll see that my skin had bubbled up... literally cooking in the searing heat. It may appear to be sweat, but it is blistered skin because the sun typically rotated around my left side as I ran east. My feet were blistered, my back and shoulders ached, and I typically didn't see a car on that particular highway for up to an hour. That was just ONE day of the run across America... and the entire journey took a total of 108 days on the pavement.

How hard was it to run across America? It was far more demanding than I ever imagined it would be. Most people who cross the country on foot have support vehicles with air conditioning, cold beverages, good food, and other people to encourage and assist. When you're running across the country alone, as I did, you have to be completely self sufficient -- and there is no escaping the weather. My water supply would get very warm, like bath water. Any food that I carried would lose its consistency in the relentless heat, and often lose its taste. Grasshoppers and flies were constantly coming at my sweat-covered body. Blisters would break, bleed, and hurt as the skin on the balls of my feet tore away while I pushed the heavy stroller down the road. My hands would ache from gripping the stroller's handlebar and blisters formed on my palms.

How hard was it to run across America? Many days, it was agony. Sure, there were easier days... but countless days were filled with pain and complete solitude. I'll never be able to fully describe how hard it was to run between 30 to 50 miles every day for nearly 4 months across the country. It has been nearly a dozen years since I did it and I still can't accurately and completely describe all that I experienced physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Running across America during the second hottest summer ever recorded in the United States highly magnified parts of my character and human spirit that I had never fully experienced before in my life. It made me learn so many things about myself, about what I can endure, and about the capabilities of the human body and spirit.

How hard was it to run across America? Simply stated, it was absolutely the most physically demanding, challenging and painful thing I've ever done in my life. Absolutely!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso