Into the unknown
Running with Dave Foley
I can see why folks who don’t do any running consider our sport to be “boring.” If you look at it from their perspective, there are few surprises. It’s all very predictable. When I lace up my running shoes, I know how far I am going and about when I will be back.
Although I may choose to run different routes, change pace or head out at a different time of day, there is a sameness to my running. Even during hard workouts or in races, the inevitable pain of burning muscles and oxygen starved lungs is a certainty and the numbers that are recorded in the training log or appear in race results are close to expectations. Most runs, while often enjoyable, have a sameness to them. They are forgettable.
But then the pattern breaks and running takes you beyond the familiar. Sometimes it’s deliberate. When I toed the line for the Breckenridge Marathon in 1977, I had never run farther than twenty miles. I was confident I could go that far, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure what would happen. My first ultra-marathon would take me beyond 28 miles for the first time. While testing my limits, in each case, I knew how far I was going, I just wasn’t sure what I would feel like at the finish. And once you’ve done that first 5K, 10K, marathon or ultra, competitions all begin to have a sameness about them. As I look back over a half-century of running, the runs that stick in my head are those where my strides took me into the unknown.
None are more memorable than one which resulted from a fishing trip gone awry.
In 1974, my running history consisted of high school track, cross country and the Army. It was something I did at the command of a coach or drill sergeant. The running boom was just beginning and I was about to be swept into it. My racing debut would be at the Cadillac Viking Boosters Marathon (which was a really 5.2-mile race, as the term “marathon” was used quite liberally then). Training consisted of 2-mile runs done a couple of times a week in the evenings after work. I dutifully did these workouts, but without enthusiasm.
On this night, I was thinking about trout fishing on a back-country creek, a plan that was thwarted when I got my Chevy Corvair stuck on a sandy two-track road. It soon became apparent I’d need help. Being that I was in the hinterlands of Cheboygan County, I decided to run/walk back to the cottage on Burt Lake. I knew how to get there, but had no idea how far that was. I started jogging.
Then I heard the thunder. The evening sky became darker as a storm erased the sunset. As the first drops fell, I picked up the pace. A rush of wind turned a shower into a deluge. The soles of my Converse high tops slapped through the puddles. My jeans soaked up the water like a sponge and the rain plastered my T-shirt to my chest. Spurred by the rumbling sky and flashes of lightning, adrenalin rushed through me. But instead of fear, what I felt was exhilaration. Though running faster than I had in years, there was no out-of-breathness, nor burning quad muscles. Or maybe there was, but I was so caught up in the moment that the pain was unnoticed. There was just pelting rain and an ever-shrinking field of vision as night fell.
I knew I was on the right road, but had no real idea how far I had to go. That should have been worrisome, but strangely it wasn’t. I had reached a place in running where I had never been before and it felt wonderful. Eventually, I saw the cottage lights and sprinted to the door. As I stood dripping in the back hall, I wasn’t thinking about the stuck car or how wet I was, I just knew that running had taken me to a new place and was about to become a permanent part of my life.
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The next day in driving out to retrieve my car, I discovered my “epic run” was only 4 ½ miles, but it was the farthest I had ever run. In the coming years, I would have more runs into the unknown. Though never intentional, there often was magic to be found when the destination was elusive or the weather did a turnabout. It is these breaks from the routine that often provide us with our richest running experiences.