What follows are the ramblings of a runner overcome with emotion and ideas…
I miss the pain. I miss the quad screaming, sleep deprived, calf aching pain. Not long ago this pain was unbearable. We knew it would be. But we were still unprepared for its arrival, and increasingly anxious for its departure. There were times we wanted to quit, times we wanted to give in. At times it all seemed so daunting, even impossible. Now, with each passing day, my body is recovering. The pain that required the most mental and physical toughness of my running career is quickly becoming a distant memory and with it, I fear, the tremendous achievement of myself and nine other amazing individuals. The pain made it real.
We are a cynical society. Jerry Maguire knew it and I’m sure most people feel it. I’m not certain if this trait is human nature or if it’s a product of our environments, but I do know that it’s real and it’s omnipresent. We live in a world where achievement is countered with argument. Champions challenged with “rationality.” “He won an Olympic medal!” “Yeah? That’s because it was a weak field.” “They were Super Bowl champions!” “Well that’s because the refs were biased.” We deal with this everyday of our lives. In sport. At work. In life. It’s always there and it ruins the spirit of accomplishment.
Immediately after finishing the run the team felt jubilation. We had covered 1,000 miles in less than 96 hours – 95:03:01 to be exact. We broke an official World Record. We averaged 5:42 a mile for 1,000 miles through five states, over a net elevation gain of 24,000 feet and each ran ~100 miles. We surpassed our fundraising goal. An incredible accomplishment no doubt and yet I’m here, weeks later, downplaying the whole ordeal. Joining in that game of “not such a big deal because…” “We beat a world record!” “Yeah? But you only ran 10 minutes at a time.” “We averaged 5:42/mile pace!” “Oh wow…that’s a slower per mile pace than the women’s marathon world record.” How does one reconcile this?
Kevin likely never experienced the rampant cynicism of the world. Your family protects you when you’re growing up. College, especially the early years, is an environment just as sheltered. It’s a youthful innocence and, at times, ignorance. The problems of the world seem far away. There is no 9-5, no mortgage, no student loans, and no rat race. For the college student-athlete there’s school, practice and competition. Artie Gilkes said it best: “Look, you have four or five years to be a division one student-athlete. You have the rest of your life to be a [screwoff].” It’s a special time and it’s filled with opportunity. Filled with people building you up. Your teachers inspire, your coaches instill confidence, and your family supports your every move. Ten years ago Kevin had that life, and then it was taken. There is no cynicism for that moment.
Today, Lynette is fighting. Her struggle is not one for socioeconomic status or athletic ranking, but the simple things that make us go on each day. Lungs that laugh and breathe; a brain that dreams and reasons; a heart that loves and beats. She’s fighting to live. Her parents tried to protect her from the hardness of life but life cannot be held back. Now she fights each day with the hopes of seeing the next. She fights to go to college. Dreams of a future where she gets a job, starts a family, grows old in life. There is no cynicism for Lynette.
And then there’s us: a team of ten post-collegiate runners; some in graduate school, some working full time, some married, some single. But all of us runners driven to excel. This run was conceived as a way to honor Kevin’s legacy and a way to inspire and provide support for people like Lynette. Yes we ran for a World Record, but we also ran for much more. There is no cynicism for this run.
There were moments of pain and moments of beauty. Every single one of us reached a point (or several) when the pain seemed too great. When the lack of sleep seemed too much. We wanted to quit. We each probably rationalized it. “The team can go on….we’re over halfway there and these other guys are going so strong and could probably take up the slack.” We wanted to quit. We desperately wanted to quit, but we didn’t. Something propelled us, some deep urge to keep going. Some powerful force told us to “shut up and run.” To fight back the demons and keep moving forward. I have a hunch where that force came from…
From start to finish this run could not have been accomplished without the support from countless individuals. There was the core team of the Dare family – Ed, Eric and Terry. Their commitment to Ryan Foster’s vision to honor Kevin through this record attempt and bring his spirit home to State College showed in their support of all the runners and choosing to be a part of and host something so incredible.
We had support from the RV & support vehicle drivers: Carl, Blane and Eileen. These individuals were as sleep deprived as the relay team though they battled through the night to make sure the team was on course, supported and on its way.
We had support from the Penn State running community. We had support from our friends and family. From our wives and girlfriends. We had support from complete strangers. Passersby who flashed a smile or a wave, honked a horn or cheered from their yard. We had support from the Penn Staters along the way. They ran with us, or rode their bikes alongside. And we certainly had support from the spirits of those who have moved on, particularly Kevin. Not a drop of rain the whole way and everyone made it through unscathed.
The most support came at the times when it all seemed so dark. And cold. And our bodies ached all over. When the big steps back up into our RVs took all of our strength. When lacing up our shoes felt like preparing for an impossible task. When there was real fear that our bodies would just stop working; that the muscles in our legs would fail to propel us forward. It was during these times that inspiration was needed most, and it was during these times when it was always there. Text messages, Tweets, Facebook messages, website comments – we read them all. We reread the messages from strangers. People who found the site likely by Googling “Life Back on Track” after seeing our support SUV drive through town at 10.6 MPH. The run and Kevin Dare had affected these people without ever knowing him or us.
This website comment hits it pretty well:
“Just saw you in Beloit, WI! I’m afraid I wasn’t aware of what was going on. After visiting the Kevin Dare Foundation and shedding a tear, please run on strong for such a noble cause. God speed.” – Pat S.
It’s a rarity when 10 people can be confined to such close quarters, under extreme stress and fatigue and still come out as friends. We ran for Kevin, we ran for Lynette and we ran for each other. We ran to inspire each other. And that inspiration was needed.
When I would ever think about quitting or giving in to the pain I would look around at the nine other men who had thrown themselves into this run. From these team members I drew inspiration.
Brian Fuller – The “Comeback Kid,” Brian came back from the brink several times during the run. We would get reports of Brian falling off the pace and looking like junk, only to hear that he pulled through or that he wanted to run longer than 10 minute segments to get his muscles warmed up and back onto pace. Brian’s ability to comeback inspired me.
Luke Watson – Luke was the most senior member of our team and the most decorated and accomplished runner. Luke’s family invited us into their home. We lounged at his parent’s house the night before the run and it became clear that Luke’s talent and accomplishments in running were grounded in value and grit. Minnesota winters are tough. Luke’s neighborhood was unbelievable hilly. He had to be tough to get where he is and his toughness was evident every time he ran with the baton. Luke’s toughness inspired me.
Nick Hilton – Nick was the last finalized member of the team and ran to prove himself every mile. Nick jumped into each run with enthusiasm and excitement. He didn’t seem to ever tire. The few times when I was lucky enough to share a handoff with Nick, I would get jacked up from the enthusiasm of his encouragement. Nick’s never ending drive inspired me.
Dennis Pollow – I was Dennis’ host when he took his recruiting trip to Penn State and have marveled in his ability to grow as an athlete ever since. Dennis is talented, but his talent pales in comparison to his patience and self-belief. It was Dennis who kept telling me, “Just come to terms with this feeling. This is it. It is going to hurt. We just need to deal with it.” The calm of Dennis helped settle my nerves and get me to believe that I could get through this. Dennis’ level-headedness inspired me.
Ryan Blood – I’ve known of Ryan Blood since freshman year at PSU. Ryan is a real Pennsylvania talent and built like a Sherman Tank to boot. Like Nick, Ryan seemed unstoppable during the run. He was a part of team “Beast Mode” and threw himself into every run at all hours of the day. After running ~95 miles, Ryan’s knee filled with fluid and swelled. The team told him to stop, and he did, but he got quiet. He laid in the RV and iced. When the plan to finish as a group and trade off 400’s when we got to the Penn State track came to fruition I expected Ryan to sit out. But he didn’t. He taped himself up with about a mile of KT tape and joined the team. Ryan’s commitment to the team inspired me.
Owen Dawson – Owen is a wild man, always a risk taker. Owen was the one riding his bicycle to practice too fast, leaning into corners too low, balancing on the edge of a Route 322 overpass. Owen once went for a “quick” ride on my motorcycle and disappeared for ~40 minutes. Simply put: Owen is nuts. On this run, though, Owen was reserved. He was angered by our early pace (as video evidence will attest) and worried about our ability to finish. For Owen to be the voice of reason was a change for me and showed how he had grown since I left State College. Owen ran within himself for most of the relay, only to drop a 54 second 400 meter once we reached the track. Owen’s maturity and reservation inspired me.
Kyle Dawson – Kyle is a fighter. I have never once thought of questioning Kyle’s toughness. After having an unbelievable high school career, Kyle was forced to sit out his entire freshman year at PSU due to health issues. He was pissed, but he persevered. The next year seemed much the same story for almost half of the cross country season. Kyle, so eager to help the team and represent Penn State, was willing to sign a legal document exonerating PSU of any liability should he suffer illness or injury during competition. Kyle, however, was granted the right to compete and ran tough throughout his college career. On this run, Kyle looked effortless – smooth stride, powerful drive. A man of few words, Kyle leads by example. His grit inspired me.
Vince McNally – Old man McNally has always been wise beyond his years. As a freshman, he helped lead our cross country team to the NCAA championships. On this run, shortly after returning from his honeymoon, Vince continued his role as leader. On the segments where I ran with Vince, his sage voice and calm demeanor would cool my nerves. Vince would keep it within himself throughout every run. He wouldn’t get excited, he wouldn’t get down. He just kept it even. But Vince was aware of my nerves. He would always speak to me when I needed it. Vince’s leadership by example inspired me.
Ryan Foster – Ryan was the mastermind behind all of this. Ryan covered the logistics. He organized a team. He inspired us to get involved; for me to get in shape. Ryan is a talent. He has run at the World Track & Field Championships. He has broken four minutes in the mile. To have Ryan believe in me and the cause and our team’s ability to accomplish this task was inspiring. His encouragement propelled me. His friendship pushed my body forward. I’ll share this text from Ryan that still gets me choked up:
Hey Teddy, I heard you’ve been having a tough time. Hang in there, buddy. There’s no one I’d rather do this with. You’re as tough as they come and soon we’ll be able to smell PA and the finish. Fight on state!
Ryan Foster inspired me.
The gravity of the whole thing didn’t really hit me personally until night one of Bruce Springsteen’s Labor Day weekend concert series in Philadelphia. I was moved by the run and excited about the accomplishment but I don’t think that I had yet digested the significance of what we accomplished or the personal importance of our collective efforts.
It was Sunday evening (9/2) and I was still riding the high of finishing the run. My body was dead tired but the thrill of being at a Boss concert kept that pain at bay. Early in the show Bruce played “Wrecking Ball.” Originally written as homage to Giants stadium, (for me) the song has morphed into an anthem for the passing of time, importance of athletic memories and the hardships of life. When Bruce played this song my emotions started to get the better of me.
The verse that broke me down:
Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust
When the game has been decided and we’re burning down the clock
And all our little victories and glories have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires are scattered through the wind
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
Yeah just to come again, Bring on your wrecking ball!
Bruce gets it: Life is hard. And that, to me, is the lasting importance of this run. Life is full of hard times. This run was full of hard times. These are constants in our world and they are non-negotiable. Another constant is that time is always moving forward, whether it’s during good times or bad. Good memories fade the same as bad memories and we’re left with our eyes looking forward to what’s next.
During the run we were constantly concerned about time. Our eyes were always fixed on the clock. We wanted to cover the most ground in the least amount of time. We checked our pace, we checked our distance, we were always aware of where we were and how far we had to go.
But I swear that during the run, time slowed down.
Leaving a team and a support network like Penn State track and field was very hard for me. It’s a special group and it’s very hard to leave. But for this run, we were all back on a team. We had uniforms and sponsors and gear. We had organization and an itinerary. We had support, we had publicity and we arrived at Penn State to a hero’s welcome. These were very special days for all of us, and I will always remember these 95 hours of running, when 10 individuals, supported by 1,000’s more, came together and accomplished something so tremendous that it was worth all the pain our bodies could endure. I’ve been reminded of the strength of the human spirit, the power of self-belief and the abilities that lie deep within all of us to overcome tremendous obstacles. And, for that, I am ever grateful to this run, this team and Kevin Dare.