”When I run, the world grows quiet.”
— Matt Inman, “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances”
‘It must feel good to be so close to achieving your goal,” my wife, Amy, said.
I was wary rather than excited, and tired from working the night before. I stared out the car window at the storm clouds growing over the Oregon Coast.
My goal was as simple as it was arbitrary: I wanted to run four half marathons in one year before I turned 50. Each half is 13.1 miles, 4 x 13.1 = 52.4 — more than 50 miles, give or take a stumble.
We were driving south to Newport to run the fourth and final half: the Newport Resolution Run and Polar Bear Plunge. Out of shape from the sugar season, I wondered if I would even finish the race.
And if I did finish, what would come next? What happens after you achieve a goal?
When I set about this adventure, my plan was that this would be a last big hurrah for running. I love hiking and vowed to do more, perhaps as a substitute for these organized runs, which can become expensive. Yet each run introduced us to new places and got us out of our rut of attending only local runs.
May 20: Run on the River
Astoria’s Run on the River was a great way to start. I signed up as a walker so I wouldn’t get in the way of more experienced runners.
The weather was perfect, and I love the waterfront. I took off at the start running way too fast, passing most of the slower walkers. When my phone’s app told me my first mile time, I was stunned. I felt good and my pace was eight minutes a mile — I rarely ever run that fast. Nervous energy. Wow, I felt really good — running without hills is great! In fact, the first seven miles or so is absolutely flat with great views along the riverfront to enjoy.
The flat running ended at the town’s far east end. The course turns right and goes steeply uphill into the Alderbrook neighborhood. The real runners had flown by me long before I got to the first hill, but mine wasn’t the only pace that slowed to crawl. I finished with cramps in my legs and a decent time of two hours and 15 minutes. One down.
Aug. 12: The Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon
Having grown up on the Columbia River, I have a strange desire to run or walk across all this magnificent river’s bridges some day. The Great Columbia Crossing is one of my favorite runs each year.
The Bridge of the Gods is narrow and 99 years old. We ran first across the metal grate bridge and then up onto forested roadways still charred from the previous summer’s devastating fires that threatened the town of Cascade Locks. Smoke from distant fires was still in the air, smudging the August sun.
Oct. 21: The Gorge Half Marathon
After the muted skies at Cascade Locks, the weather in Hood River was a postcard-worthy sunny autumn day. A friend warned me, “The first two miles are all straight up hill.” I was glad for the warning. The climb was psychologically defeating, yet it soon leveled off and was worth every step. Fall colors and bright sunlight against blue skies. This run follows the old cliffside highway yielding picture-perfect views around every corner. I finished just short of my personal best time but feeling great.
Then came the sugar season. Baked goods, fancy dinners, candy and cookies. Busy days, excuses not to run. “I’m in shape. I just ran three half marathons!” I told myself.
Cartoonist Matt Inman calls this “the Blerch,” that inner voice that gives you all the great reasons not to exercise, to quit or not even try.
I all but stopped running more than once a week and some weeks I didn’t run at all. I gained eight pounds. I forgot to ask for the right days off work, so I had three 12-hour night shifts scheduled right before the final run.
Jan. 5: Newport Resolution Run & Polar Bear Plunge
I had only visited Newport, Oregon, a few times and had no idea where we would be running. I assumed a nice run along the harbor and maybe across that beautiful bridge. I figured it would be cold and wet, but I was prepared for that. I figured I would be very slow.
I had no idea.
Just a few miles into the run the course veers up into the woods, narrow roads and muddy trails used by mountain bikers. I was still wearing my ultralight distance running shoes; no traction at all. I fell twice on steep and muddy trails. Each run was 13.1 miles, but this one was much longer. The trail was well marked, but I still worried that I was lost in the forest trails that all started to look alike. I cursed every skipped training day and cinnamon roll indulgence.
When the trail finally returned to pavement, and headed down out of the hills. I was mentally exhausted. The race ends in the sand dunes with a finish line at the beach and a dip in the ocean. Something happened climbing the first sand dune. My left thigh muscle froze. It wasn’t cramped, it just wouldn’t work.
I hobbled toward the finish line and didn’t stop. I staggered toward the water. I didn’t jump in the storm-tossed surf — I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stand back up. Instead, I waded in the ocean and let the waves crash over me.
Ending like that, you’d think I would hang up my shoes for good. But I like running, not so much for the races — I’m never competitive — but for the way it makes me feel. It is meditation in movement, a time to think and breathe and turn off the world for a little while. It makes me feel like I have accomplished something each day I run.
I don’t need medals for that.
Pursuing this goal, running in these races, was great and got me out of my rut and into the world in a new way. Yet I realized it is the everyday running that I find most rewarding and fun. So I needed to set a new goal.
Run every day: the streak
“Streaking” in the running world is not what you remember from the 1970s (if you remember the 1970s). Streaking is running every day for a minimum of one mile. Most days you are likely to run more, but some days a mile is all you are going to accomplish. The key is putting on your shoes and getting out the door.
I started the day my new Reeboks arrived and have only missed a day or two. I plan to start my official streak on my 50th birthday next week. My big goal is to run 500 miles this year, which is easy if I just aim for 10 miles each week. Somewhere along the way I want to get a streak of at least 50 days.
I have learned that goals aren’t about just crossing the finish lines. Goals are about how you change your thinking on the path to achieving them.
Ed Hunt is a registered nurse and former newspaper reporter. His latest book, “Vine Maple in the Autumn Light,” is now available on Amazon.