The Outside Rail

“Joe, why do you run so much?”

My joke answer to that question from a neighbor, friend or family member typically goes something like, “So I don’t become an ax murderer,” and gets met with an odd pause before I laugh and say that I’m not really sure why. I didn’t run as a younger person, not regularly anyway, but I’m a regular now and managed to cross off the 1,000-Mile Challenge presented by iRun Local this week. The challenge idea took root in January when Tom Law and my brother Sean brought it up during our annual winter summit.

“Let’s run a thousand miles this year and write about it,” somebody (probably Sean) said. Tom, who actually quite regularly runs a thousand miles a year and even keeps a running journal, made it sound possible. Much more of a just-go-for-a-run runner, I was skeptical. I’d hit 900 in 2020, without setting a goal or even looking at my total until the end. Another 100 seemed to have potential. It also seemed impossible. But, nevertheless, we persisted.

Sean started running again. Tom signed on Saratoga Springs, N.Y. running store iRun Local as a sponsor – the swag was greatly appreciated – and we ran, and ran some more.

Officially, I crossed the line (officially 1,000.4 through Dec. 27) during an 11.5-mile run through Newark, Del. Sunday morning. It’s become a regular route for me – drive a few miles to Newark, park in the cul de sac on Apple Road, say hello to the guy who lives in that house, jump on the James Hall Trail, loop around the Innovation Way building, head up through the University of Delaware campus on the Pomeroy Trail, cross Main Street and Cleveland Avenue, pick up Creek Road and run along White Clay Creek almost to Pennsylvania and then come back along the other side of campus to my car. I’ve seen just about everything on that route – walkers, runners, bikers, hikers, skateboarders, one-wheel riders, pot smokers, beer drinkers, tractor drivers, walk-of-shamers, delivery people, deer, foxes, a heron, mallard ducks, Canada geese, little kids, old people, dogs, cats, trains (lots of trains), fishermen, coffee drinkers, street sweepers, gardeners and so on.

I used Strava to record the runs and started out pretty well in this oddball quest to run the distance between Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and Altoona, Iowa – without actually going anywhere – in 12 months. January went well, with 101 miles starting with the Hangover Helper 5K on New Year’s Day. I ran for 15 hours, which sounds longer than 101 miles. February wasn’t as productive at about 60 miles and included runs called the Fair Hill St. Moritz Ice Run and Slush or Traffic, Pick Your Poison. March went to 106 miles, including something called Moderna Miles on the day of my first Covid-19 vaccination. April’s highlights were three race-course runs as I covered the Maryland timber meets at My Lady’s Manor, Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup and went for runs afterward. Still, only 72 miles. In May, I called a run the Cicada Six Miler. June included a trip to Block Island and several runs around one of the coolest places on Earth with ocean views, hardly any traffic and even a few hidden graveyards – oh, and dead ends, lots of dead ends. Still, I made it to 500 halfway through the year.

And then things went sideways.

If you’re reading this you know we publish The Saratoga Special every summer. This summer, we were determined to run regularly and even started out OK before stalling out like a VW Rabbit on a cold (or hot) day. I ran 52 miles in July, just 36 in August when sidelined by a weeklong cold that wasn’t Covid but sure felt like it.

So after running 500 miles through June, I got to September at less than 600. Tom and Sean were even farther off the pace, though Sean ended Saratoga on a roll before sidelining himself with a foot issue (he’s hopeful of hitting 1,000 in 2022). Tom has made a Zenyatta-like challenge to get to 988 with four days to go in the year.

Whether it was the challenge or something else, I found some motivation in the fall season. I left Saratoga Sept. 5 and have run more than 20 miles every week since. I ran 99 miles in September, 107 in October, 111 in November and 96 (so far) in December. I ran in the mountains of Colorado, at the beach in Delaware and all over the usual territory around Fair Hill and Newark. I set PRs for a 5K and a half-marathon. I ran with my dog and my sons. I ran at night. I ran during the day. I ran on trails, on roads, up ridiculous hills and on fast flats.

But back to the ax-murderer thing. I really don’t think I’d commit vicious crimes with a yard implement if I didn’t run, but I do think I’m a happier/saner/calmer person because I run. Things make sense when I run. Life, relationships, business decisions, stories to write, deadlines to hit. Call it short-term thinking. Running makes me think about the short term, which shoves all the long-term stuff into the background as the minutes and miles roll past.

In these times of Covid and questions and doubts, that seems more important than ever – even if the long-term stuff waits for me when I return.

See you out there.

Thousand Mile Notebook
States: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Colorado.

Gear: Brooks Adrenaline 21 (three pairs), Brooks Cascadia trail shoes, Brooks Ravenna, hats (winter and otherwise), gloves, buffs, Apple watch, iPhone, running belt for keys and such.

Running Buddies: Fusion Running Club, Saratoga Stryders running club, Tri-State (Tim Jadick) Runners, Ryan Clancy, Nolan Clancy, Sam Clancy, Ilana Cramer, Sean Clancy, Tom Law, Katie Clancy, Ryan's friend Hank and anybody else I crossed paths with.

Longest Run: 15.6 miles border-touching run of Fair Hill (56th birthday test).

Shortest Run: .28 mile “Stress Reduction” run around the block at Saratoga July 27 at 9:24 p.m.

Longest Break: 11 days of no runs (Strava labels each “rest”) Aug. 5-15.

 

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