Taking my first step on the Appalachian Trail (2007)
On May 1st, 2007, two very specific things happened in my life. At exactly 4 PM EDT, I set my right foot down on the start of the Appalachian Trail for what would eventually become my first of many new adventures. It was with this step that I began my first thru-hike, a 2175 mile jaunt down the AT, as well as my renewed life as an explorer.
But something else happened on that day. After having completed the ~8 mile approach trail hike up to the Southern Terminus and true start of the AT, I decided to start "keeping track of my miles". To get in shape for the AT, I had started to pick up running again the few weeks leading up to my start...something I hadn't really done since high school some 10 years earlier. For basically 10 years, I had done very little athletically, and let myself go quite a bit. Being a numbers guy, I thought what better way to keep myself motivated both during and after my thru-hike, than to keep track of my total "lifetime" miles. Now obviously starting "lifetime" miles at 30 years old, isn't very accurate. But since I had no way to truly gauge my miles up to that point, I figured why not start with this first step on the AT.
The Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail
I gave myself one "rule" regarding the logging of miles: Only running, and purposeful hiking would be log-able. Basically, if I considered my activity to be "athletic", and purposeful forward motion, it counted. My true passion-of-motion is fast hiking anyway, so I certainly considered those type of miles worthy. In retrospect, when I think of all the miles I've hiked during ultramarathons, this certainly holds as well. What I wouldn't log, would be any normal day-to-day walking that wasn't notably separate as its own activity. In other words, walking around downtown, or through the grocery store....doesn't count. I suppose what some today would consider "steps".
During my hike, I logged miles using the official AT data book. Obviously there's some uncertainty in those numbers, and I never logged miles I hiked on side (or blue-blaze) trails. But, I treated the numbers I did log as a sort of "gospel". If the book said I did 26 trail miles, I logged 26 trail miles. When I got home, I searched the web for a program that I could use to log my miles. I stumbled across a program called "Runningahead" and went through the tedious process of transcribing all of my recorded miles from my AT hike over to the log. To this day I still use this website.
Following my hike, I began to pick up running again in earnest. Every time I went for a run, I logged it. In early 2008 when I began training for my first marathon....I logged it. Later that summer when I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail....I logged it. in September of 2008 when I ran my first 50-miler at the VT 50, I logged it. in 2009 when I ran my first 100 at the VT 100....I logged that too. Every training run, every training hike, every thru-hike, and every race. Every mile...was logged.
And then one day, while I was deployed to Antarctica for my third season I noticed something. It was the 1 hour in the day that the internet satellite was up and I was logging my miles for a short run I had just done out on the skiway. I entered in those miles and realized my total logged miles were just a few under 10,000 total!. I couldn't believe that number was real. Had I really run 10,000 total miles since my first day on the AT?
I decided to celebrate with a fun run out into the void of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. I even wrote about it on a blog post here:
Running my 10,000th mile at WAIS Divide Antarctica.
10,000th mile at WAIS Divide
The years marched on, as did my running. I began running and racing a lot. My yearly totals were consistently topping 2000, or even 2500 total. It was just a couple of years ago when I noticed that I had surpassed 20,000 total miles....and again celebrated.
Hold that thought while I switch gears for a moment....
This past weekend was another quite memorable one for me. Like last year, I had again placed my name in both the Western States and Hardrock Lotteries. Having just run both events (WS in 2017, and HR this past year), I had no expectations whatsoever that I'd be chosen for either. My odds for Western States were about 3%, and with my Hardrock entry now going through the "Else" lottery, my odds were about 15%. Both were low enough that I had assumed and expected to not hear any news. I was just hoping to "bank some tickets" as it were.
Like last year, I was registered for a local 50k run in a nearby rocky/rooty park in Boston called the Middlesex Fells. This year I had actually planned to cancel the event as I was supposed to travel to visit family. Due to many project deadlines at my lab, I just wasn't able to get out of town in time to start the long drive though, so decided to just stay home, rest, and visit in a couple weeks instead. But...I forgot to actually cancel my run registration. That night as I was falling asleep, upset that I had become so stressed, and ultimately not able to visit family, I remembered the run. I decided I needed nothing more than some therapy time on the trails. I set my alarm for 6 am, and decided to just go and play at the 50k. This particularly 50k run has marked the "end" of my ultra season three different years, so it holds somewhat of a special place in my heart too. It also always seems to happen on "Lottery Day". Last year, I turned my phone off as I ran the 50k, and didn't check it until I got home. I wanted to enjoy the day before learning if I had been drawn in the lotteries. Thankfully, after 8 years of applications, last year I was finally drawn to run Hardrock. It was quite an emotional day.
I wrote about it here: Hardrock Bound
But this year, knowing my odds were so low, and being so bummed about the canceled family trip, I just wanted a day in the woods and on the trails to clear my head. The forecast was calling for sunny and cool weather. Perfect for a day on the trails. From the moment I started the race, to the moment I finished, I was happy. It was a perfect day, and I felt at peace out there. It felt like a nice way to close my 2018 ultrarunning chapter.
Enjoying the perfect day at the TARC Fells 50k
When I got back to my car, I had a smile on my face. I had seen friends, enjoyed the trails on a perfect day, pain-free. I had completely forgotten about the lotteries.
I sat down in the drivers seat of my car and picked up my phone. There was a text message from a number that I didn't recognize. I opened the text and immediately saw a picture I had sent to some friends I visited back in Durango CO a few months ago. Incidentally, I had met these friends on the AT back in 2007. My thought was, "I wonder why 'Stitch' (aka Ben) is texting me?".
Then I saw the text. It said simply, "Woohoo! Congrats"
Congrats for what? And then it hit me. Ben is also an ultrarunner. Ben came to see my finish at Hardrock last year and lives in the San Juans. Ben has been entering the Hardrock lottery for the past couple years.
No...Effing....Way. There is no way I got into Hardrock again. Not in my first year since running, and only with 15% odds. Ben must have mis-read.
I opened twitter and saw my name drawn 10th in the "Else" Lottery. My heart started racing. This cannot be real. And then it hit me like a wave. No, not a wave of excitement like last year, but a wave of something different.
There is a large part of the ultrarunning community that is, shall we say, less-than-thrilled with the way the Hardrock Lottery is configured. The race, by design, does favor veterans, and makes it incredibly hard for virgins to get into the run for their first time. Heck it took me 8 years. But once in, you are moved to a different lottery, and immediately your odds go up. With a single finish, my odds this year were ~15%....or about the same as someone with 6 years of tickets in the "Never" Lottery. I will not comment on the lottery configuration in this post, but needless to say, I felt an immediate and horrifying sense of guilt when I saw that I was drawn. People are gonna be pissed at me I thought. I was just hoping to bank some tickets and after a few years, maybe get selected again. But here I was, selected again, my very next year applying.
The tweet showing my lottery draw
The text I got from Ben
The drive home was very contemplative. I wasn't sure how to feel. Should I be happy that for once the luck fell my way and that I'd get to run the Hardrock....AGAIN....AND in the opposite direction!? Awesome right!? Or...should I feel like I am part of the veteran problem at Hardrock? This same feeling is what ultimately led me to stop applying to Barkley. I felt like after 4 years of running it, that I was taking a spot away from someone else who should have a chance at giving it a go. But with Hardrock, even if I gave up my spot, it would just go to another person on the "Else" list...not a Virgin.
What made the guilt worse was that I found out two additional pieces of information. I found out that there was one Virgin applicant who had 512 tickets in the Never lottery....and was NOT drawn. My heart absolutely sank when I thought of him. I remember how bummed I was when I didn't get in with 64 tickets. I couldn't imagine not getting in with 512. Then I see this article published over at MassUltra (a great website btw), stating that I was the ONLY New England applicant to be selected for Hardrock this year, including 24 applicants from MA. It certainly reinforced just how unlikely my lottery draw was.
When I got home, I immediately booked a room in Silverton to hold it, to give me time to think about it. I made the mistake last year of waiting a week and everything was sold out in town. We did manage to get a room for the night after the run last year, and we had a camper van for the other nights. This year, I was able to secure a room early...but the motel I went with already was nearly sold out.
I've talked with friends and family, and all assure me not to feel guilty, and that I just got lucky this year....but it's hard. A very very big part of me wants to be out there in the San Juans, experience that ridiculously beautiful course again...but my heart keeps telling me that in some ways, it feels wrong...and that somehow it would be selfish of me. When I look at my finish picture from last year, the emotions definitely well up. They tug at the very fibers of my soul...somehow whispering to me to, "come back". I recall in vivid detail the shear joy and profundity I experienced out there on that course last summer. Watching the sun rise from atop Handies Peak, was like touching the envelope of the Universe itself. It was magical in all sense of the word. There's also nothing quite like the San Juan mountains. They hold a unique character and splendor unlike any other mountains I've experienced...and I've experienced quite a few. There's a reason I rank them among my favorite mountains in the world (thus far). I suppose in some ways, that by just entering the lottery, that deep down I at least wanted the chance to run again. I had to know that however small my odds, I would still have a chance of being selected. Perhaps my subconscious is just inherently selfish, as much as I like to tell myself that it isn't. What does that say about me? Maybe I'm just over-analyzing all of this and I simply did just get lucky, and should be ecstatic like last year.
So, am I excited? Of course. I genuinely would love to run the Hardrock again, to experience that awe and wonder again. I am so completely honored and humbled to be invited back. But still.....this unexpected news weighs a bit heavy.
Lots to think about. Lots to ponder.
2018 Hardrock Finish
So....back to the more whimsical story...
After my heavy thoughts of the weekend. I finally went in to log my miles from the TARC Fells 50k race. I noticed my total "lifetime" (since May 1, 2007) miles were now just shy of 25,000. In fact, the mileage was exactly 24,897. Why this specific number caught my immediate attention was because it was only 4 miles short of 24,901 total miles. 24,901 miles also happens to be the circumference of the Earth at the Equator. Of course there are a lot of miles in my logs that probably weren't recorded, or that were rounded, or that my GPS watch calculated wrong....but whatever the case, my published number was most certainly low. As I stated above, putting aside the uncertainty, I like to treat my miles log as truth, so to speak. So to me this meant I was just 4 miles short of being able to say that I've, "Run/Hiked around the World". That is a mind-bending thought considering I have done all of those miles in my 30's and now early 40's.
So...first thing Monday morning, with still very-sore legs from the 50k, I texted a friend to go out for a short 5 mile run around the neighborhood. We did our usual loop around the Charles River. At 4 miles into the run we stopped at an insignificant traffic light to wait at the corner of River St. and Lexington St. I looked at her and said...
"Well...what do you know. I've now run around the world. Right here at this random intersection"
It was as profound as it was ridiculous. She gave me a high-five, the light turned green, and we continued on running immediately talking about something else. What a bizarre, surreal, and yet memorable morning. I finished the run and my totals now read, "24,902". In a short 98 miles, I'll hit 25,000...another ridiculous number to keep me motivated.
What's remarkable is that I never expected, or anticipated I'd ever hit 25,000 miles. I simply went out, put one foot in front of the other to enjoy a run or hike in the moment. But you see...every one of those single steps will add up, just like seconds in a day. Those runs will add up. Pretty soon those years of running will add up. And one day, just like me, you'll find yourself standing at a random intersection thinking to yourself,
"Huh...I just ran around the world. Neat. Where to next?"
Where I completed my "Around the World" Run.
A banana-suit version of me, Photoshopped into the exact intersection
My totals so far.
My yearly totals of running
About 2075 miles per year
Nearly 6 miles per day
Never stop exploring and hike (or run) on my friends...