Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Running Across the USA -- Failure in 1986 and Success in 2006

Today marks 15 years since I completed my solo run across America at the age of 41. I thought I had seen every photo of me that was taken during that journey and published online. However, I recently came across the picture that accompanies this writing. It was taken as I was running between the towns of Logansport and Peru, Indiana, in September 2006.

This year also marks 35 years since I first attempted to run across the United States at the age of 21 -- back in 1986. That run was unsuccessful, but the 2006 attempt allowed me to place my footsteps from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I occasionally look online to see who is running across the country, particularly those who are making the attempt solo. There are always people walking or hiking across the country, taking 6 months or more -- or even a year or more -- to cross the continent. I'm more interested in those who take on the 3,000-mile challenge and complete it in 4 months or less all alone. My journey required me to average 30 miles per day for 108 days while striding through 15 states. In the 15 years since I became the 5th person in history to run solo across the country from one coast to the other, there have been plenty of people who have taken on the across-USA challenge. Some have succeeded with massive support crews and luxury mobile accommodations while others have tasted success simply by using the approach I did -- a jogging stroller.

It has been 112 years since the first documented crossing of the United States on foot, which was by Edward Weston in 1909. It's reported that he averaged 32 miles per day at the age of 70. Although he was considered a notable "pedestrian" by many, there are those who doubt that he actually stepped the entire distance. Today, there are various devices to track and validate crossings. Unfortunately, most crossers still don't use such devices and some have been identified as cheaters -- or actually admitted it.

I believe that the most publicized run across America was in 2011 when ultramarathon professional Dean Karnazes ran from California to New York with a massive media and support team in multiple luxury vehicles. His run was consistently featured on the Live with Regis and Kathie Lee morning television show and Karnazes garnered media attention from around the world as he did what made him happiest -- run. He averaged 40 miles per day for 73 days to complete the journey. However, that same year there were 8 other across-USA runners who all did more daily mileage and ran it faster than Karnazes, but their accomplishments were simply a side note at the bottom of sports pages. In fact, three years before Karnazes did his run, Marshall Ulrich ran across America by logging 58 miles per day -- or about 18 miles more each day than Karnazes. Finally, since Karnazes did his run in 2011, there have been many people who have logged more daily mileage across America than Karnazes did, but you don't hear about those runners.

On the flipside of the coin are those who cross the country at such a slow pace that hardly any training is needed at all -- just an abundant amount of time to do nothing but log a few miles daily. In 1984, one man went across the country at a mere 12 miles per day (requiring 259 days). In 2012-2013, a man crossed the country by only going 6 miles per day (requiring 456 days). Another man did similar mileage in 2015, and no... these were not old people. In fact, over the course of the past 10 years there have been several people who have crossed the country on foot by averaging 10 miles or less per day, sharing their journeys online. Generally, those are people with a lot of free time to wander the roads of America for over a year.

So far in 2021, there have been at least a dozen people who have set off to cross America on foot. Some have completed the journey while others are still out there. When I made my first attempt to run across America in 1986, it was extremely uncommon and unthinkable to many. Of course, the Internet has fueled interest and been a catalyst for getting people on the road. After my 1986 attempt nobody else tried to run across America until 1990. There was a four-year period when there were no adventurous souls willing to try it. However, since 1990 there has been an increasing number of people each year who have been attempting to stride from one side of the country to the other. I believe that this interest will only grow as more people accomplish the task and share it with the world via the social media and published books.

I'm glad that I succeeded at running across the country in 2006, but I'm also glad that I made the attempt in 1986 long before the Internet was around. I undertook something at the age of 21 that was truly rare and relatively unheard of. Now, at the age of 56, I believe that 1986 attempt impacted my life in ways that I never fully realized as an adventurous 21 year old.

From Him, Through Him, For Him (Romans 11:36),

Paul J. Staso


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