figuring it out

on run forever pace and seeking the answers to questions…

“The French word for wanderlust or wandering is ‘errance.’ The etymology is the same as ‘error.’ So to wander is to make mistakes. In other words, to make mistakes, to make errors is sort of the idea of learning through trial and error, allowing the mistakes to be part of the process.” — Robyn Davidson

When I was about 22, I read a book by William Least Heat Moon called Blue Highways. It was about his journey across the backroads of the country, avoiding interstates and encountering the characters he believed you wouldn’t meet traveling the main highways, the ones marked in red on most maps. I also read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, an account of the novelist’s 10,000-mile journey in a self-built camper with his beloved poodle Charley.

Both books captivated me. Ever since I have been fascinated by the concept of the road trip. Adventure. The unknown. Living by one’s own abilities with no agenda, no accountability to anyone but oneself…and maybe a dog. A journey of true self-discovery. Both writers felt compelled to seek answers to questions deep inside and believed the road would provide answers.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car. Too much. Not for fun so much but for work. Driving to Indy. Driving to Madison. Driving to Iowa, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville. Downtown. Downstate. Up north. Middle-of-nowhere.

Odyssey / noun/ od-ys-sey/an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest; an odyssey of self-discovery; a spiritual odyssey from disbelief to faith.

At some point I decided life on the road was not worth it, at least under the circumstances in which I found myself. Too much time away from family. I missed out on important moments in the lives of my kids and the people I cared about. In fact, it felt as though I was living separate lives.

There was Road/Me: the go-anywhere, promise-anything and do-everything sales consultant earnestly working to get my products from my big running shoe company into the door, then keep whatever meager shelf-space I won from disappearing.

Then there was Home/Me. It always took a couple days to get back into the routines of family–how dinner was done, bath and playtimes, putting to bed. Often I was awkward and out-of-place with how my family did things in my absences.

When I got off the road some of the wanderlust remained. I still loved driving to my in-laws’ cabin in the Northern Lower Michigan woods or heading to Michigan’s left coast to soak up sand and sun along the lake. The less planning and more spontaneous the trip the better. There always was the anticipation of something exciting, something game-changing. A little discovery that would somehow make life better. A lot to put on the shoulders of a short road trip to the beach, I know.

When I got off the road some of the wanderlust remained. The less planning and more spontaneous the trip the better.

I wonder if the road trip is a modern equivalent of a primordial directive to move. Locked deep in our brains, at least in some of us, is the calming power of movement. We are, after all, explorers and wandering feeds a sense of “rightness” regardless of direction.

The allure of the road trip also has a corollary in running. Running extracts a similar sense of movement and exploration as I wander the streets and trails around Ann Arbor. And how many times did friends and I take to the car to drive to Flint, Columbus or Chicago or even Virginia to run a race? The start line called to us just as certainly as a Siren to Odysseus. How could we refuse? There are companies that package travel with running and exploring. There is even a Facebook group for writers who run.

I was never a very competitive runner; I was more a mid-packer who could occasionally come up with a good 5k or 10k. I never broke the venerable three-hour mark in the marathon, though I tried several times. The closest was in 1996 when I ran 3:11:44 at Chicago and qualified for the 100th Boston Marathon to be held the following spring.

I have his theory that our bodies are capable of a certain cadence, where soul and body and chemistry blend in perfect balance and therefore operate very efficiently. I have come to call this “run forever pace.” 

But running never was about competing, at least in the traditional sense. Certainly I always saw value in bettering myself, but I didn’t run to feed an internal competitive fire.

I have his theory that our bodies are capable of a certain cadence, where soul and body and chemistry blend in perfect balance and therefore operate very efficiently. I have come to call this “run forever pace.” There is no better place for me as a runner. It’s a lot like being “in the zone” some talk about, whether running, or writing or performing an activity that feels effortless and focused.

When I think about running I dream of running forever. Over the countryside. Through the woods on trails that twist and rise. On long stretches of country roads, where the smooth macadam is cooled by the shade of poplar, maple, and birch. It’s exploration, wanderlust and movement. In the synchronous sweep of arms and legs, and paired with my thoughts, I find space for reflection and peace. Sometimes, I think, if I could just run forever all would be good.

In the synchronous sweep of arms and legs, and paired with my thoughts, I find space for reflection and peace.

So it was about 10 years ago a nugget of an idea popped into my head that I thought I had left long behind. A crazy idea. A much bigger combination of exploration and running that might once and for all satisfy my internal desire to move and explore. It came back, ironically, during a recent run.

If my theory is correct, I will call on my run forever pace in my own odyssey, my own quest to answer questions inside, just as Steinbeck and Least Heat Moon did more 55 and 35 years ago respectively.

But it’s way too early to talk about yet. There is a lot more thinking to do about this before I lace up my shoes.

For now it’s just an idea. Just my body, my Hokas, my thoughts and the road.

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please let me know your thoughts.